Brussels Behind the Scenes: Salon de la dernière chance

Brussels Behind the Scenes: Salon de la dernière chance

BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES

Weekly analysis and untold stories

With SAM MORGAN

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Salon de la dernière chance

France’s stint in charge of the EU’s presidency comes to an end next week. Two council summits in quick succession offer Emmanuel Macron a last chance to make a success of the last six months. 

For some people, it does not matter how many victories or triumphs you win, you will only be remembered for the last thing you do. Everything can be quickly wiped out either by a disappointing end or botched landing.

Just ask Zinedine Zidane, one of the best footballers ever to step foot on a pitch. Despite his magic skills, for many fans he will always be the player that ended his career headbutting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final.

Zidane had even scored in that match and looked destined to help steer his teammates to eventual victory over Italy. Instead, there is an iconic photograph of him walking past the glittering trophy after receiving his red card. France then had to wait 12 years for another shot at the title.

The French government is now facing a similar date with destiny as we move into the final week of its EU presidency of the Council. Six months are nearly over and on 1 July France will have to hand over its baton to the Czechs.


BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, Sam Morgan helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels. If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.


Since Emmanuel Macron took over the reins in January, there have been notable successes in different areas of policy, including digital and health issues. Next week, it is climate’s time in the limelight.

At an energy council on 27 June and an environment council on 28 June, ministers from the EU’s 27 members will try to agree on some of the most important parts of the Green Deal. This is a crucial step into making those proposals binding laws.

It will mean brokering deals on the renewable energy and energy savings directives, the emissions trading scheme, CO2 standards for cars and more. No easy ask given the ongoing severe disruptions caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The idea is that ministers manage to agree on positions on all these files so that talks with the Parliament and Commission can begin later in the year, probably in September, under the Czech presidency.

If those negotiations then proceed at a decent pace, it is not unlikely that new climate targets for 2030 and beyond can be written fully into law at the start of 2023. Given the effort that has to be made, many see this as the bare minimum.

The Czechs have already made it clear that the Green Deal is not the main objective for their half-year in charge, so the writing has to be on the wall before they start chairing meetings.

But next week could trip the French and their pro-climate allies up at the last minute. MEPs showed this month that agreeing on these reforms is no easy ask. A vote in plenary rejected a shoddy compromise and fresh compromises were struck only this week.

Energy prices are sky-high, Germany is sounding the alarm about gas supplies and a general uneasy feeling of uncertainty pervades a lot of normal life, so it is a difficult political moment to agree on rules that will by necessity cost society a little something extra up front.

It is hard to predict what will happen on Monday and Tuesday.

Logic dictates that governments will agree on bigger renewable energy and energy efficiency targets, as more clean energy is the clear answer to the ‘how does Europe break its dependence on Russian fossil fuels’ question.

But the Council almost always advocates for less ambition than the Commission and Parliament, so governments may trot out excuses and seek exemptions for energy sources in which they have vested interests. This is how the game is played.

Internal disputes within member states also make it difficult to guess how it will all play out. A plan to stop the sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 is probably the best example of this.

Germany has ostensibly come around to the idea, after a lot of its big carmakers announced plans to focus on electric vehicles, but there may yet be a sting in the tail.

Finance minister and liberal party leader Christian Lindner said earlier this week that he does not support the 2035 date. Lindner will not be sitting in on next week’s council summits but his statements cast doubt on what Germany will actually support.

Emmanuel Macron needs a win right about now. Elections left him with no majority and an almost impossible task of governing in the long-term because of the diverging views between France’s political parties.

He may yet strike some sort of grand bargain or use his presidential powers to call another election early next year. In the short-term, a French-led agreement on climate rules would do for now.


BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, Sam Morgan helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels. If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.


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