Environmental agreement demonstrates that European Constitution is unnecessary

14 March 2007

Environmental agreement demonstrates that European Constitution is unnecessary

The agreement at European level to bring about drastic cuts in CO2 emissions over the next few years has brought back a bit of lustre to the EU. At the same time, it gives the lie to the idea that the Union has become unworkable. There is clearly, therefore, no need for a European constitution, argued the SP's national parliamentary spokesman on European affairs Harry van Bommel in today's debate on last week's European summit.

Extracts from Harry van Bommel intervention in the debate:

Harry van BommelAt the European summit environmental targets were fixed so that by 2020 there should be a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions and in energy use, while a minimum of 20% of this energy will have to come from renewable sources. 10% of the fuel used in the transport sector must be biofuel. This represents a change of direction. Whether these targets are achievable is not the question. The question is rather how they will be achieved and when.

2020 is still far away and paper is patient. There are many examples of ambitious targets, far off in the future, targets which will probably never be met. Think of the Lisbon goal to make the EU the world's most competitive economy, described by the former Foreign Minister as 'silly'; or take the UN Millennium Development Goals to halve global poverty and hunger by 2015 – very noble, but too little is being done to make it happen. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the new environmental targets 'ambitious and credible', but that judgement will only be borne out if the necessary means to achieve them are invested.

Because the targets are far off, it's important in the meantime to keep an eye on the situation. Will annual reports be produced showing to what extent the EU as a whole and each of the member states are in line with them? And has consideration been given to the question of what pressure will be brought to bear on those countries which, as is possible, do not achieve the targets?

The European Commission has come forward with proposals regarding how the burden will be divided between countries. How does the government intend to influence this? It is important that the goals are achieved but that at the same time the building of homes and infrastructure can be guaranteed.

It is clear that we need a shift from private to public transport. Investigation of the possibility of tax on air transport must, the SP believes, lead to its imposition, especially for short flights within Europe where high speed trains offer a good alternative. As things stand it is much cheaper to fly to Paris or Berlin than it is to take the train. This is the world turned upside down.

I would also like to use the occasion of this summit to devote a few words to the Union's decision-,making capacities. Once again it turns out that there isn't per se so much amiss on this count. In 2005 agreement was reached on the new long-term budget, whereby the Netherlands would be obliged to hand over a billion euros less. According to the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, this proved “that we can take decisions even when there's twenty-five of us.” And now an agreement has been reached over these ambitious environmental targets. This proves beyond doubt that even a Union of twenty-seven can take impressive decisions – just as long as there is a common interest in view. In this way, what the SP sees as the myth of an unworkable Union and the need for a European constitution is irreparably weakened.

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