The new EU Environment Commissioner expects Poland to block the new EU climate targets even longer despite billions in aid.
Germany, which is also putting the brakes on environmental protection, wants to put more pressure on it in the future.
The Lithuanian Virginijus Sinkevičius is the youngest in Ursula von der Leyen’s college of commissioners. The 29-year-old was previously Minister of Economy in his home country of Lithuania for two years.
He is now Commissioner for the Environment, Seas and Fisheries.
Because of Ursula von der Leyen’s ambitious climate program , his work is closely monitored. WELT met him in Berlin, on the edge of the WELT economic summit.
WELT: Before you came to Brussels, the news caused excitement that a baseball cap with the campaign slogan of US President Donald Trump was hanging in your ministerial office in Vilnius: “Make America Great Again”. Are you really that big a fan of Donald Trump?
Virginijus Sinkevičius: No, I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. In most cases, my political views are very different from those of the US President. A former colleague from the United States brought me the cap that hung in my office with dozens of other gifts because I said before the presidential election that I did not believe Trump would win the election. So that was a kind of Schadenfreude gift. Nevertheless, I am convinced that every politician ultimately wants to create better living conditions for people. That is why the EU and the US have to work together, despite differing views, not only to ensure the well-being of our citizens, but also a healthy environment for all.
WELT: As environmental commissioner, you are also driving the European Green Deal . The Commission wants to make the EU climate neutral by 2050. How much prosperity will this project cost and how many jobs in European industry?
Sinkevičius: Nothing to do about climate change will cost us more prosperity than fighting global warming. The European Green Deal is also an industrial strategy to ensure that Europe remains a leader in environmental technologies. We want Europe not to have to buy these technologies from others, but to sell and export them ourselves. Climate protection will become a large market worldwide, and European companies can benefit from this. In addition, we are discussing a CO 2 -Ausgleich for imports, which is to ensure that, despite higher energy costs for European companies remain competitive. We will specify the details of the CO 2 limit compensation this year.
WELT: Does the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 also mean that the EU will raise the climate goals for 2030? There are very different statements from the Commission. So far, the EU is expected to emit 40 percent fewer greenhouse gases by 2030 than in 1990.
Sinkevičius: We will definitely raise the emissions targets for 2030. We have to move closer to climate neutrality by 2050, which is why the goals for 2030 must be set higher.
WELT: How many percent should emissions decrease compared to 1990? By 50 or 55 percent?
Sinkevičius: We are currently discussing an increase to 55 percent. While this is ambitious, we have already had an impact assessment carried out for this and consider it the right step.
WELT: At the last EU summit, Poland refused to support climate neutrality until 2050. Now regions particularly affected by the energy transition are to receive money from a so-called fund for a just transition. Up to 100 billion euros are earmarked for this. Will that be enough to buy Poland’s approval?
Sinkevičius: No, the just transition mechanism alone will not be enough to convince Poland. We cannot be so naive as to believe that public money alone will ensure that people accept decisions made in distant Brussels. We therefore have to convince those affected and first of all the companies. Businesses have to believe in and invest in the fight against climate change. Only then can the transition be really successful.
WELT: Will German regions, which are heavily dependent on lignite, get money from the fund for a just transition?
Sinkevičius: I’m pretty sure that German regions can also get money from the just transition mechanism. We will all benefit from the fund and the exit from lignite, which it supports: 400,000 people die prematurely in Europe every year due to air pollution, and this is primarily due to the burning of coal.
WELT: You also want the European economy to stop producing pollutants in the future. When can Europe be ready?
Sinkevičius: As long as the companies participate and support the zero-pollution project, we will definitely not set any goals from above that everyone must meet. We have to offer alternatives to industry, and companies have to find the solutions that are right for them and then invest in the appropriate technologies. This is the only way to ensure their competitiveness .
WELT: So you are opting for voluntary freedom?
Sinkevičius: We really don’t need any new rules for water or air purity; the rules we have are world class. Unfortunately, however, the rules are not sufficiently implemented in the Member States. It is therefore important that we enforce compliance with existing rules, for example for water quality, more decisively in the future.
WELT: In fact, in the environmental field alone, more than a dozen infringement proceedings are only being conducted against Germany. Ursula von der Leyen has therefore announced that it will insist on the enforcement of EU law. The last commission shrank from it.
Sinkevičius: We are always ready to work with the Member States. But if we see that they are not implementing EU law accordingly, we will also be ready to use the tools we have. I will insist very much that the Member States do their homework. And yes, I’m also betting that we will get more money and resources to enforce existing EU law.
WELT: In May the EU decided to ban disposable plastic items such as straws or plastic cutlery. Are you going to extend these bans to other plastic items?
Sinkevičius: We definitely want to expand the rules for single-use plastics and are currently investigating in which direction that would be possible. An important step would be, for example, to ban plastic packaging or to prescribe the use of recycled plastic .
WELT: Microplastics, tiny plastic particles in the environment, which also accumulate in the human body, worry many people. Does the EU Commission have an answer?
Sinkevičius: Microplastics are on our agenda. By the end of the year we will provide a very detailed list of all those products that contain microplastics or that use microplastics. And then we will make sure that these products no longer release microplastics. We want to start at a very early stage, starting with the rules for the composition of tires, cosmetics and other relevant products.
WELT: Are you planning a separate directive for this, i.e. EU law, which all member states must transpose into national law?
Sinkevičius: A directive for microplastics would be an option. But I don’t want to commit myself at the moment.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, 29, was the youngest Minister of Economy for Lithuania from November 2017 to 2019. He studied economics, international relations and international law in Great Britain and the Netherlands. He has been Commissioner for the Environment in the von der Leyen Commission since December 1, 2019. Sinkevičius is married and has one son.
Published on welt.de