This weekend, over 7.500 people came together to form a human chain between Poland and Germany, in opposition to the expansion of lignite mines in the border area. The action, which was organised by Greenpeace with help from other NGOs across Germany and Poland, was meant to show solidarity with villagers in the south-west of Poland and south-east of Germany whose homes and livelihoods are to be destroyed if plans to expand coal mines by PGE in Poland and Vattenfal in Germany are to go ahead.
EU member states and the European Commission, after what has felt like a marathon two-year process, are now engaged in finalising agreements on the EU’s Structural and Cohesion Funds (ESIF) investment strategies and spending plans for the 2014 -2020 EU budget period.
Where the 11 'new' member states of central and eastern Europe (CEE) are concerned, their approach to economic and societal development via the EU funds is proving to be a double-edged sword: while their spending plans for climate action is set to increase ten-fold in comparison to the 2007-2013 period, and the 'greenest Cohesion Policy legislation ever' prevents them from committing major environmental crimes, a reasonable long-term investment strategy, and financing, to achieve the decarbonisation of these economies by 2050 is noticeably lacking.
The European Investment Bank, the biggest multilateral public bank in the world by lending volume and the self-styled 'EU bank', has recently announced that it will be reviewing its approach to climate change in the coming months. According to comments made by EIB vice-president Philippe de Fontaine Vive to civil society representatives, “The EIB wants to position itself between this October's anticipated EU 2030 climate agreement and the Paris COP 21 meeting in December 2015”.
Mathieu Fichter, Team Leader on 'Sustainable Growth' in the European Commission's Regional and Urban Policy directorate (DG Regio), and Markus Trilling, EU Funds coordinator for Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth Europe, discuss and reflect on the challenges and opportunities that are being thrown up as we enter the final negotiating stages in the programming process for the EU budget 2014-2020.
Whether at the global level with the United Nations Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, the European level with the Environment Action Programme to 2020, or at the national level, a great deal of effort is being made to promote, develop and expand sustainable lifestyles and production. Such efforts should be tailor-made for receiving financial support from the EU funds.
The Czech government's plan to phase out part of its lignite-fired power plant fleet by 2025 has hit the news recently with total annual power output from this climate-damaging source set to drop from 40 TWh in 2015 to 18 TWh by 2035. However the increased electricity consumption projected in the very same planning scenarios, that over time will eliminate the country's current high energy export share and shift it instead onto an import dependency path, places an unfortunate question mark over just how serious the Czech Republic is about its transition to becoming an energy efficient, low-carbon economy.
Some Czech projects proposed for EU funding are already sticking out as 'white elephant' investments. As the final spending decisions for 2014-2020 shape up, Bankwatch will be keeping a close eye on the likely stampede of similar project concepts all across central and eastern Europe.
As Latvia's authorities look to finalise EU funds allocations for the 2014-2020 period, the nation's energy supply – where it is sourced from and how it is being used – remains the elephant in the room. As in every economy, energy is a crucial sector, with significant influence over the overall national economy and its development. An ambition and a challenge for Latvia is how to improve its energy independence, and quickly.