What to expect from the Austrian EU Council Presidency on the climate and energy front

daniel-plan-670187-unsplash Vienna's Belvedere Place Credit: Unsplash

BRUSSELS – As of July 1st 2018, Austria has taken over the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union for the 3rd time since joining the EU.

Coming between the Bulgarian and Romanian Presidencies, the country will be responsible for crucial negotiations before the next European election, including the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027. But what will be on the Presidency’s agenda when it comes to climate, energy and transport policy? We take a closer look below.

In practical terms, Austria’s presidency role will entail driving forward the Council’s work and defining its positions on EU legislation, ensuring the continuity of the EU agenda, orderly legislative processes and cooperation among member states.

Continuing Bulgaria’s work on the Energy Union

After the finalisation of the recasts of the Renewable Energy Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive, Austria will have to conclude the trilogues on the Electricity Market Regulation and the Electricity Market Directive, which are critical aspects of the Energy Union, a new regulatory instrument proposed by the Commission as a tool to ensure all Member States fulfil their energy and climate commitments, under the Commission’s oversight.

Promoting EU leadership on Climate Action

While it is unclear what direction Council negotiations will take, recent changes of government in Italy and Spain offer promise of higher climate ambition. This in turn will be decisive in the run up to COP24, where the EU has vowed to take over climate leadership following the expected withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement.

Austria will need to mobilise support from the Council to agree on a common position for the Commission’s upcoming non-legislative papers on the future of EU climate and energy policy, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of the Paris Agreement, and on the long-term EU strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The stakeholder consultation on July 10-11 will be a first insight on the Commission’s long-term plan for climate action.

Decarbonising transport

Finalising the CO2 standards for light-duty vehicles and for heavy-duty vehicles will be a priority, so as the make sufficient progress before the next legislative cycle and put an end to the transport sector’s continuously growing emissions. The Commission’s proposed targets have already been upped by the Parliament, with several Member-States supporting higher ambition, including Austria itself. However, Germany, Hungary, Czechia, Poland, and Slovakia have all expressed concern with the stringency of the Parliament’s desired targets, stating excessive burden for manufacturers and risk of substantial job losses.

Another key file on Austria’s agenda will be the recast of the Clean Vehicles Directive. Whereas discussions in the Parliament have already progressed significantly, Member States are still to formalise their positions and enter into negotiations. The definition of ‘clean vehicles’, ambition level of national procurement targets and scope (in terms of vehicle categories covered) will be among the key issues under discussion, with sharp divides already being observed among EU countries as well as between different levels of government within countries.

Austria’s experience as a transit country for the transport of goods will be necessary in the revision of the Eurovignette Directive, seeking to implement distance-based road charging. Another priority will include addressing the working conditions of transport workers, a critical issue in which Western and Eastern European countries have split opinions due to ‘social dumping’, whereby Eastern countries propose lower cost at the expense of lower working standards.

Inland Waterways will also feature among the Austrian’s Presidency’s priorities, it plans to hold a ministerial with other Member States sharing the river Danube, to promote the sector of water transport.

More information about the Austrian Presidency’s other activities can be found here.

Bellona Europa

europe@bellona.org