ETS deal on aviation victory for 'pragmatism over ideology'

Tackling aviation emissions was always going to be a 'long and bumpy flight', writes Eija-Riitta Korhola.

By Eija-Riitta Korhola

14 Apr 2014

When I accepted the honour of being parliament's industry, research and energy committee opinion rapporteur on the aviation emissions trading scheme (ETS) applying a single global market-based measure to international aviation emissions, I knew I was in for a long and bumpy flight.

With parliament's environment, public health and food safety (ENVI) committee as lead, I was, at best, going to be the co-pilot knowing full well that my destination was not the same as the captain's. But mixing my metaphors to the limit, I am a long-haul politician and my destination has always been the republic of pragmatism. My political flights have been many and often turbulent but I am never put off by that prospect – though I do maintain one of the world's largest collections of sick-bags – thankfully all are still unused.

My last Parliament Magazine article on this subject was after the European commission first agreed to 'stop the clock' due to huge international pressure, delaying the application of the ETS to aviation for third countries in order to allow the international civil aviation organisation (ICAO) to install its own remedy by 2020. The commission then came up with their 'airspace model' for the intervening years for all flights within EU airspace, much to everyone's surprise. In my view this was madness and once again threatened a trade war of Jumbo proportions, while hitting our own aviation industry the hardest.

"I am a long-haul politician and my destination has always been the republic of pragmatism"

So battle lines were drawn once more, with the commission promoting its airspace model to replace stop the clock until 2020. The ENVI committee wanted the airspace model only until 2016, then returning to the original aviation ETS should no international agreement be found by that time. My proposal was to extend stop the clock until the ICAO general assembly in 2016 which ITRE then adopted and extended until 2020, meanwhile parliament's transport and tourism (TRAN) committee adopted its opinion extending stop the clock until 2016 as well.

In normal years, these contrary positions would have been explained, debated and compromised during the first and second parliamentary readings followed by a plenary vote on a report to be sent to council. But as we approach the end of our mandate and the aviation ETS had its own binding deadlines, time was short and the process accelerated through the trilogue between council, commission and the parliament. The aim of the trilogue is to produce a single compromise amendment for the parliamentary plenary vote. However it soon became clear that the ENVI position was unacceptable to council and my own line, supported by TRAN, was favoured for that final compromise. ENVI rejected the compromise but it was accepted at plenary - thus avoiding an international trade war, giving ICAO the breathing space they need and eventually providing the global environmental benefit that the whole debate has been aiming for in the first place.

Observers have called it a victory for common sense. I prefer not to consider whether there are winners or losers. The result has been developed by a mix of activities from all sides of the debate. It is important to listen to our industries; they will be the much needed basis for economic recovery not politicians, not tax regimes and not the dogma of considering environmental needs without also considering the consequences.

Finally, I take this evidence of pragmatism over ideology as a great signal for the next mandate. I look forward to that and hope to be a part of it.

Read the most recent articles written by Eija-Riitta Korhola - MEP calls for 'balance' between EU environment and industry policy