Parliament adopts aviation ETS compromise

On April 2 2014, the European Parliament plenary discussed the recent compromise reached with the Council (on March 4) on greenhouse gas emission trading as regards aviation.

By Dods EU Political Intelligence

Leading provider of EU parliamentary and political intelligence, delivered by an expert team of specialist researchers

03 Apr 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

The rapporteur Peter Liese (EPP, DE) started by saying that climate change is a very serious problem as showed once again by the most recent IPPC report. “We have got to do something”, he said. He added that air traffic has been an increasing cause of climate change and therefore some measures need to be taken. He then called for a global agreement to be found and was of the view that the European Parliament should be exerting pressure to make sure this agreement at global level does not fail.

On the text presented to the plenary, the rapporteur recalled that it was not an easy job to find a compromise and all sides moved to find an agreement. He therefore thanked everyone involved in the negotiations. The current text would limit the system to EU intra-flights for four years.

He was of the view that if a global agreement on climate change issues was found in Paris in 2015, the pressure would be on ICAO and in the case that ICAO fails, the original EU initiative could probably be implemented. The compromise is far from being perfect but we have managed to achieve a great deal, he said. 

He said that one big success of the European Parliament was regarding the transparency in the granting of funds. He indicated that the European Commission would be publishing the reporting made by the Member States and he called on the journalists to use this.

He concluded by saying that politics is the art of possible. He urged the MEPs to vote in favour of the agreement.

Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that nobody has worked as hard as the EU to find a global approach. Without the EU efforts, she believed that the last agreement found at ICAO in 2013 would not have happened. She was of the view that the next ICAO general assembly should really pin down the details of the mechanism. In order to facilitate an international agreement and just after the ICAO general assembly in 2013, the European Commission has made a proposal to cover the EU intra-flights. Regrettably, the Council did not support the Commission’s proposal and as a consequence, the scope has been reduced. The European Commission would have preferred a high level of ambition as it would have been better for the EU’s reputation and climate. “But we are where we are,” she said. This is a basis for an international agreement and it provides legal certainty. In return, the European Commission expects that the international partners will recognise the EU’s flexibility and constructive attitude and focus on reaching an international agreement. She indicated that third countries’ representatives have been positive towards the informal compromise. Finally, she asked the MEPs to accept it without amendments.

Eija-Riitta Korhola (EPP, FI) author of the ITRE opinion, said that the outcome of the trilogue came to the same conclusion as her opinion. She called for a global agreement to be found.

Political group speakers:

Petri Sarvamaa (EPP, FI) spoke in favour of maintaining predictability, stability and visibility of the EU airline industry. “We need to take care that an agreement is found at ICAO”, he added. Innovation is the key in the battle against climate change. The EU needs to promote entrepreneurship and encourage EU-based industry. He thought that the EU should be known for leading on policies that attract investment and not for policies initiating trade wars. On the text presented to the plenary, he was of the view that the European Parliament should express a strong voice and he hoped for a balanced agreement to be found.

Mathias Groote (S&D, DE) thanked Peter Liese for his work. “We do not want to have to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea”, he said. He clearly stated that he supported the airspace approach taken by the European Commission. “I am going to support the ENVI committee result and our group will not be able to agree on this unfortunately”, he said. He highlighted that the European Parliament has been very split on this dossier. He deplored the procedure used during the negotiations and he also deplored the lack of consistency between EU policies on having backloading and ETS on the one hand, and opening the door to foreign airlines on the other hand, by carrying on stop the clock.

Chris Davies (ALDE, UK) was of the view that the European Commission ETS scheme should be supported. ICAO has been talking about introducing market-based mechanisms since 2001 and he therefore had little hope that things would be moving forward. The deal makes the EU look very weak. “This deal is weak, weak, weak”, he said. He blamed the Council for such a poor deal. It is shameful. Chris Davies said he was in favour of introducing national and regional basis initiatives to counter the lack of concrete moves at the international level. 

Satu Hassi (Greens/EFA, FI) said that the green group will not be able to support the deal. She said that it was a shame that the EU had to take a step backward in its climate change policy due to pressure exercised by the US, Russia and China. To those who are afraid of trade wars, she pointed out that the US itself, at ICAO has spoken in favour of an airspace approach. She added that a vote in favour of earmarking revenues from ETS auctions would make the deal more acceptable for developing countries.

Jacqueline Foster (ECR, UK) spoke vigorously against the approach taken by the Commission. She was of the view that including aviation into ETS was a “stupid idea” and nothing more than a tax on a key industry for the EU economy. The implementation of SES, innovation and building capacity are instruments to mitigate climate change. “We are a global trader and not a global dictator”, she said. She indicated that her group would support the deal as the original regulation is even worse. To finish, she said that, on this file, the European Commission has come across as being arrogant and patronising and she urged the European Commission to reconsider its position the next time it has such a silly idea.

Chris Davies (ALDE, UK) asked Jacqueline Foster whether she accepts that climate change represents a threat to human beings and if she does, what measures she thinks the EU should be taking to fight global warming.

Jacqueline Foster (ECR, UK) replied by saying that there were already many measures in place to fight climate change. On aviation in particular, building capacity, innovation and SES should be used to mitigate aviation’s impact on climate.

Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE) said that the compromise was excellent. It is a success. He hoped that the majority of the European Parliament would vote in favour of the trilogue negotiations as the text is clearly a step in the right direction. Contrary to Mathias Groote, he did not think that the policy was inconsistent. “We are using different measures for different situations”, he said. Backloading was set up to deal with EU emissions but this is a different market situation where EU airlines have to face global competition.

Mathias Groote (S&D, DE) asked him, if this text is a good idea, why MEPs have received so many emails urging them to vote against it.

Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE) replied that air traffic is not just a European market. He also stressed that ICAO agreed in 2013 to follow the path taken by the ENVI committee and therefore he hoped the text would be agreed in plenary session.

Judith Merkies (S&D, NL) was of the view that aviation has to contribute to the fight against climate change. “We are seeing the lobbying activities that are going on and we are going to be faced with a climate crisis that we will not be able to counter”, she continued. “It is a shame that we have to choose the lesser of two evils here”, she concluded.

To Judith Merkies, Marino Baldini (S&D, HR) said that the EU has undertaken several measures but the environment issues have perhaps been ignored at the EU and global levels.

Judith Merkies (S&D, NL) explained that Europe has decided that it wants to lead. This is very good ambition but the difficult situation is that there is no follower. “There is a way in between, but I think this is not the way”, she added.

Holger Krahmer (ALDE, DE) said that six years ago he was among those warned that it was a big risk for the EU to tackle emissions trading from aviation without working with third countries. “Today this means, we are in a blind alley”. “We have no wiggle room,” he added. Third countries threaten taking counter measures if we were to reject the compromise and therefore the EU is falling back to the situation prior to stop the clock. He explained that he would vote against the text as he thinks the text cannot be implemented.

Silvia Adriana Ticau (S&D, RO) stated that greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly and a vast majority of this increase is due to aviation; a solution at global level needs to be found to fight against this. She then echoed the message of the Transport Committee opinion: “We should wait until ICAO in 2016 to reach an agreement”. Until then, the EU needs to ensure that EU industry remains competitive, she concluded.

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL) said that this debate has less to do with climate than with the place of the EU on the international scene. “We are rewarding China and other countries for their economic blackmail,” he said. Europe will pay for this politically and economically.

Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL) was strongly critical of carrying on “stop the clock” for another four years. He viewed this as “four years of nothing” and did not believe this was putting pressure on ICAO at all. “The pressure is lost and Europe has lost”, he concluded.

Peter Liese (EPP, DE) concluded the debate to say that in the case of rejection of the agreement by the European Parliament, the Assembly will have to take its responsibility; contrary to colleagues, he did not think this meant choosing between “Scylla and Charybdis” (two evils). He was also more optimistic regarding the next talks in Paris and at ICAO level. “I believe in success,” he said. “We have to continue to fight”, he added.

The following day (April 3 2014), the Parliament adopted this compromise agreement with 458 votes in favour, 120 against and 24 abstentions.

Read the most recent articles written by Dods EU Political Intelligence - REPORT: What are the EU’s policy plans for the rest of 2022?