Written by Henrique Morgado Simões.
|Hearing due to be held on Tuesday 3 October 2023 between 08.30 and 11.30.|
European Parliament committee responsible: Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI).
In the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič has served as a Commissioner since 2009. He was the Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth from 2009 to 2010, and from 2010 to 2014 Commissioner and Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration. From 2014 to 2019 he was Vice‑President for the Energy Union, and since 2019 he has been the Vice-President responsible for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight. He also serves as co-chair and representative of the European Union in the Partnership Council established by the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
Maroš Šefčovič, born in Bratislava in 1966, studied at the Bratislava University of Economics and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. In 2000, he attained a doctorate degree in law from the Comenius University of Bratislava. From 1990, he held several positions in the Slovak government, including a period as the country’s ambassador to Israel (1999 to 2002). From 2004 to 2009 he was the Slovak Permanent Representative to the European Union.
In July 2023, as part of his interinstitutional relations and foresight duties, Šefčovič presented the Commission’s 2023 Strategic Foresight Report, which focused on putting ‘sustainability and people’s wellbeing at the heart of Europe’s open strategic autonomy’.
This briefing concerns a portfolio change in the European Commission in mid-mandate and takes the same format and approach as those briefings published in September 2019 to give Members of the European Parliament an overview of major issues of interest in the context of the hearings of the Commissioners-designate.
For information on the procedure, see a separate note on replacement of individual Commissioners. The full set of briefings in the context of the 2019 hearings of the Commissioners-designate can be found at: https://epthinktank.eu/commissioner_hearings_2019.
On 22 August 2023, the former Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans – responsible for the European Green Deal – submitted his resignation as a Member of the European Commission, in order to pursue his intention to be a candidate in the upcoming general election campaign in the Netherlands. Following this announcement, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, assigned the role of Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal to Vice-President Šefčovič.
At the end of 2019, the Commission adopted the European Green Deal, seeking to become a continent that is climate neutral, exemplary in its circular economy, pollution free, biodiversity friendly and capable of mobilising green transition financing. The Green Deal, one of the six policy priorities of the von der Leyen Commission, comprises a total of 154 legislative and non-legislative initiatives. As of September 2023, the Commission has tabled almost two thirds of them (62 %), half of which (51 %) have been adopted by the co-legislators. The European Climate Law, a cornerstone of the European Green Deal, entered into force In June 2021, setting binding targets to achieve a 55 % net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, and climate neutrality by 2050. The Commission supported the European Green Deal throughout the coronavirus crisis, using the pandemic recovery instruments to advance climate action. In response to the next major crisis, Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Commission emphasised energy efficiency and renewables as critical tools to tackle rising energy prices and energy security challenges.
According to the President of the European Commission, Šefčovič’s role will be, among other things, to bring the European Green Deal ‘to the next level’ and accelerate its roll-out as Europe’s growth strategy. He will also continue to lead work on interinstitutional relations, better policymaking and strategic foresight, as he has since 2019.
In June and December 2021, in line with the European Climate Law objectives, the Commission presented the fit for 55 package, which included legislative proposals aimed at a complete revision of the EU 2030 climate and energy framework. The revision addressed legislation on effort-sharing, land use and forestry, renewable energy, energy efficiency, emissions standards for new cars and vans, and the Energy Taxation Directive. The emissions trading system (ETS) was revised and strengthened, and a new system dedicated to the transport and building sector was introduced (ETS II), accompanied by a Social Climate Fund dedicated to softening the social impacts of that system. The carbon border adjustment mechanism was the Commission’s proposal to address the fairness of the GHG emissions price of specific products being imported into the EU. Legislation on sustainable maritime fuels has been adopted and a proposal on sustainable aviation fuels has been agreed by the co-legislators. Negotiations on the main climate files were concluded by the co‑legislators in 2022, while the energy files are in the final stages of the legislative process.
During 2020, the Commission presented a set of strategies aimed at addressing emissions from the energy system. Included were strategies on hydrogen, energy system integration, methane and offshore renewable energy sources. With the same goal, the Commission revised the EU gas and hydrogen markets regulatory framework, and proposed new legislation on reducing methane emissions in the energy sector, and on the energy performance of buildings. The European climate pact was launched in December 2020, a non-legislative initiative aimed at allowing all citizens and organisations to share information, debate and act on the climate crisis. In February 2021, the Commission adopted a new strategy on adaptation to climate change.
In line with its circular economy ambitions, the Commission updated a long-term strategy on Europe’s industrial future and a chemicals strategy for sustainability. New legislative proposals introduced a Regulation on Batteries and a net-zero industry act, and addressed construction products. In March 2020, the Commission adopted the circular economy action plan, followed in 2021 and 2022 by new legislative proposals on waste shipment, empowering consumers for the green transition, ecodesign requirements for sustainable products, and packaging and packaging waste. In 2023, proposals on a directive on common rules promoting the repair of goods and on substantiating green claims were put forward.
In 2020 and 2021, the Commission adopted, respectively, the biodiversity strategy for 2030 and the EU forest strategy, the latter followed, a few months later, by a legislative proposal targeting the minimisation of the risk of deforestation and forest degradation associated with products placed on the EU market. Recently, new legislation proposals have been tabled concerning nature restoration, pesticides, air quality, water pollution and waste water, mercury, food and textiles waste, and soil monitoring and resilience. Expected later in 2023 are proposals on chemicals and microplastics.
The EU’s multiannual financial framework and the Next Generation EU instrument, with 30 % of expenditure dedicated to climate objectives, are helping to fund the European Green Deal. In 2020 the Commission presented the sustainable Europe investment plan to increase funding for the green transition and pave the way for a framework for sustainable investment. In 2021, the LIFE programme was adopted for the 2021-2027 period, as was the Just Transition Fund, seeking to support the regions and people worst affected by the transition towards climate neutrality. In order to fast-track investments that could develop a renewable hydrogen market and facilitate renewable hydrogen imports to the EU, in 2023 the Commission launched an EU hydrogen bank.
Priorities and challenges
Ursula von der Leyen’s mission letter to Maroš Šefčovič highlights his responsibility for accelerating the roll-out of the European Green Deal, as well as for keeping it ambitious. This will be achieved in close cooperation with the Climate Commissioner by implementing the European Climate Law targets for 2030 and 2050, and by preparing the 2040 GHG emissions reduction target. A 2023 European Court of Auditors report noted that there are scarce indications that planned actions and funding will be sufficient for achieving the 2030 targets. Šefčovič should deepen the dialogue with industry, forest owners and farmers, and strengthen clean industrial innovation and competitiveness. Challenges in this role might arise from situations such as the recent debates on the proposed EU nature restoration law, where opponents to the proposal have highlighted that it could have negative economic consequences for European farmers, or from calls for a pause in European environmental legislation to allow for an increase in industrial competitiveness. Also, cases such as the recent announcement that Poland has taken legal action against specific legislation included in the fit for 55 package, and is planning to extend that action to more legislation, will be a direct challenge to Šefčovič’s future priorities.
The energy transition is also addressed, as it will be part of Šefčovič’s coordination role to increase its speed, namely by upgrading the EU’s grids and infrastructure. Šefčovič will also coordinate the work necessary to strengthen the circular economy and increase access to critical raw materials. Deployment of the Just Transition Fund will be accelerated, in a combined effort with the Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms. Another priority is the implementation of the biodiversity strategy for 2030. A more broad area of work will deal with the EU’s zero-pollution and resource efficiency ambitions. Šefčovič’s mission also includes coordination of work to reduce the carbon footprint of the transport sector and to ensure that the blue economy contributes to decarbonisation.
In her 2023 State of the European Union address, Ursula von der Leyen made it clear that ‘the future of our clean tech industry has to be made in Europe’, highlighting multiple sectors such as wind, steel, batteries and electric vehicles. Challenges were identified in relation to unfair Chinese trade practices, to be addressed through the launch of an anti‑subsidy investigation into electric vehicles from China. Areas such as energy security, industrial supply chains, food security and environmental protection, will continue to pose challenges in light of Russia’s war on Ukraine, with some being of the opinion that the European Green Deal is the policy tool to address the war’s repercussions and avoid exacerbating climate change-related disruptions.
|Treaty basis and European Parliament competence|
EU environmental policy is based on Articles 11 and 191 to 193 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Article 191 lists climate action as one of the objectives of EU environmental policy. Article 11 TFEU also requires environmental protection to be taken into account in other EU policies (a process known as ‘mainstreaming’). Combating climate change has been an explicit EU objective since the Lisbon Treaty.
Environmental policies are a shared competence between the EU and Member States and are subject to the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision by Parliament and Council), with the exception of fiscal matters, town and country planning, land use, quantitative water resources management, choice of energy sources and structure of energy supply, which require unanimity in the Council. The European Parliament must give its consent for the EU to become a party to international agreements.
The European Parliament has played an important role in raising the ambition of EU climate legislation, calling repeatedly for a mid-century zero-emission strategy (2017 and 2019) and ambitious 2030 targets (2018) during the last legislative term, positions reaffirmed by the current legislature in its January 2020 resolution on the European Green Deal, in which Parliament called on the Commission to present a proposal for a European climate law with legally binding targets. In 2019, the European Parliament declared a climate and environment emergency, calling for reform across key policy areas to remove inconsistencies with Union climate ambitions.
Ahead of the legislative proposal presented by the Commission on the supply of critical raw materials (CRMs), Parliament’s 2021 resolution highlighted that an integrated approach throughout the value chain was key to increase the supply of CRMs. In 2021, Parliament welcomed the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, and called on the Commission to propose a legally binding biodiversity governance framework, which is currently being negotiated by the co-legislators.
More recently, Parliament adopted a 2022 resolution on extreme weather phenomena, in response to their increasingly visible impacts, with a view to stepping up the EU’s efforts to fight climate change. In October 2022, Parliament’s COP27 resolution stressed the need to raise targets to align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C target, welcomed the Glasgow Dialogue on ‘loss and damage‘, and called on the EU to increase the proportion of adaptation finance in the Global Europe Instrument.
Bassot E., The six policy priorities of the von der Leyen Commission: State of play in autumn 2023, EPRS, European Parliament, September 2023
Erbach G., European Climate Law, EPRS, European Parliament, August 2021.
Erbach G. and Jensen L., Fit for 55 package, EPRS, European Parliament, June 2022.
Halleux V., EU nature restoration regulation: Setting binding targets for healthy ecosystems, EPRS, European Parliament, July 2023.
Read this briefing on ‘Hearings of European Commissioners-designate: Maroš Šefčovič – European Green Deal, Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.