Are things changing in Europe?

starlings via geograph-5991171-by-Walter-BaxterThis post is by Martin Harper, global conservation director at the RSPB, a version was first published on the RSPB blog.

I have, for understandable reasons, been a little detached from European Commission politics in recent weeks, so I was pleasantly surprised to read the agenda for Europe by the proposed EC President Ursula von der Leyen.

This is the single more environmentally coherent statement I have read from any political leader and contrasts remarkably from the one from her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, whose own agenda triggered the massive cross-EU campaign to defend the EU Nature Directives.

It is worth reading in full as it outlines a proposal for a European Green Deal as the central focus for the Commission. Imagine if a UK political party had this as their number one priority in their next election manifesto.

As well as her own headline agenda, Mrs von der Leyen has issued mandates to other nominees for senior Commission positions including…

Frans Timmermans
An ally on the Defend Nature Campaign, Frans Timmermans, in his new role, will be responsible for action to tackle climate change and will oversee the work of both the Commissioners for Agriculture and Environment and Oceans. In addition to climate change, biodiversity features prominently in his ‘mission letter’:

“Europe must lead the world when it comes to protecting our biodiversity. You will ensure we mainstream biodiversity priorities across all policy areas, notably trade, industry, agriculture and maritime affairs. To do this, you will coordinate the work on the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.”

Mr Timmermans has been asked to present the European Green Deal in the first 100 days of the Commission which means we should see substance as soon as February next year.

Virginijus Sinkevičius 
The proposed Commissioner for Environment and Oceans is Virginijus Sinkevičius who has specific mandate to make sure that environment, blue economy and fisheries and the Biodiversity Strategy 2030 are an integral part of the European Green Deal. He has also been mandated to:

“ensure that Europe leads the way to an ambitious agreement at the 2020 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. We must use all the tools and diplomatic assets at our disposal to do this.”

While these appointments are currently being subject to scrutiny hearings in the European Parliament, the intent is hugely welcomed.  If this new agenda is implemented, this would re-establish the EU as an environmental leader and would be testimony to exceptional campaigning efforts over many years by many environmental NGOs.  It would also demonstrate that EU politicians are responsive to the growing public concern – led by Greta Thunberg – about the climate and ecological emergency.

While the UK continues its fraught political conversation about its future relationship with the EU, we in the environmental NGO community will remain committed to working in solidarity with our European partners, both within and outside of the EU.  We have shared nature, the threats are common and together, we know that we can make a huge difference to the natural environment.

[Image courtesy of Walter Baxter, via Geograph]

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