Environmental challenges for the Dutch Presidency – will progress be lost with ambition?

The Netherlands will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) for six months as of January 2016 when the EU is facing crucial challenges including the refugee crisis, the terrorist threat, global warming, the rise of Euroscepticism, and the economic crisis. Last week, the Dutch released their work programme showing that they want to act as a mediator between the Member States and between the European institutions. European cooperation is very much needed on the “essentials”, starting with climate, which will be the main focus of discussions next week both at the global and EU level.

Environment and climate issues in the spotlight
Next week will see two milestones for environment and climate issues. The United Nations Climate Summit (COP21) – where the international community is committed to achieving a new climate agreement – will take place in Paris. In Brussels, the Circular Economy package is expected to be presented next week by Commission’s Vice President Frans Timmermans. In their programme, the Dutch announced that they want to make significant progress in these negotiations to ensure that a 40% reduction of Co2 in 2030 (compared to 1990) is implemented.

The circular economy package: lost ambitions
“It is much more fundamental than just doing the right thing for the environment. It is a choice for an economic model”, said Frans Timmermans.

Expectations from this package are high because investments in the circular economy can support the green development of European industry and, concurrently help to achieve the goals that will emerge from the COP21.

The Presidency’s challenge will be to get the package off to an ambitious start. It is not easy when the latest Commission draft is axed under Frans Timmermans’ drive for “better regulation” and gives weaker targets than the previous package. Although the Vice President had promised a more ambitious package, a leaked version this week stipulates   a recycling goal of 65% instead of 70% and a 10% landfill quota instead of bans.

But this is not all…
Other environmental dossiers will be crucial for the Presidency. The Commission published its proposal for the review of the Emission Trading System (ETS) in July. Negotiations in the Council are expected to be difficult as Member States have varying levels of dependence on fossil fuels and the ETS will affect them differently.

Also expected in 2016 are the Commission’s proposals for national Co2 reduction targets. The positions of many Member States differ and it remains to be seen whether a final compromise can be reached. At the very least, the Dutch will have to negotiate with each Member State individually to be able to make concrete progress on these issues in the Council meetings.

Challenges ahead
All these environmental dossiers will have considerable and different impacts on the Member States and businesses. This will lead to challenging negotiations for the Presidency as the positions of countries are far apart. At the same time, the risk of the Presidency is that, if it follows the – originally Dutch – “better regulation” path laid out by Frans Timmermans, it might lead to the over-simplification of laws and the reduction of targets. It is up to all those with an interest in the outcomes to think and act constructively to ensure that progress does not get lost with ambition.

This article was first published on