While Europe is facing extreme climate change and environmentalist along with commissioners have been debating whether electricity backups is the answer to climate change.
Beatričė Bankauskaitė and Jacqueline Pinedo
EU Commission, Cabinet of Maroš Šefčovič, states that capacity market is a necessary tool to providing electrical insurance for future blackouts. However these capacity mechanism, divert people’s money while keeping unprofitable margins and polluting coal power plants, according to Greenpeace.
Necessity or Abuse?
Capacity mechanism were created as an insurance policy against the possibility of future blackouts – for example, during periods of low wind and high demand – they ensure that consumers will continue to benefit from reliable electricity supplies at an affordable price.
However, Greenpeace sees capacity mechanism as a way for coal-industry to support the revamping of power plants while still continuing to produce electricity with coal.
Greenpeace policy adviser, Sebastian Mang explained that we will miss our global target on climate change, “shooting well over 1.5 degrees” as a global temperature.
“Supporting capacity mechanism is also slowing down the transition towards 100% renewable energy,” said Mang. “Capacity markets make all the stuff we don’t want cheaper and everything we do want more expensive, and this is a problem.”
In response, Michael Pollitt, a Professor at Cambridge University, said in an interview on EURACTIV.com that capacity schemes are actually necessary to accompany the transition to renewable and may even contribute to achieving the EU’s decarbonisation goals under the Paris Agreement. It gives countries the confidence to have backup capacity when wind and solar are not available.
EU Commission Supports a Cross Border Transit
“Capacity mechanisms are needed and it’s reality,” said EU Commissioners “It is just a matter of how it will be organized and what the limitations and rules will be when applied to capacity mechanism, because we can’t allow that people make a lot of money from them.”
The EU Commission sees that a way to limit capacity mechanism is by supporting a cross border transit and conduct trades between borders and networks.
However, according to EU Commissioners, achieving a truly integrated European market where EU countries have less capacity than their total demand is still difficult. Each member state wants to keep production and energy sources within their own borders.
Greenpeace feels that capacity mechanism are unnecessary, because the plants that receive the subsidies are rarely called on and, when they are, they often fail. According to Mang, Bulgaria had a capacity mechanism network, but when the country needed to receive actual capacity power, the coal was frozen due to the extreme winter weather.
Large Price Ticket but Uncertain Future
According to the Greenpeace analyses, capacity mechanisms have cost consumers €32.2 billion and €25.7 billion already has been earmarked until 2040. Countries that use the biggest amount of capacity mechanisms are Spain, Poland, Belgium, Ireland and the UK.
This autumn the national governments together with European Parliament will decide whether or not capacity mechanism will be restricted by EU law. According to Greenpeace, Poland, the UK, and Greece are countries that gives most subsidies for keeping capacity mechanism.
Sustainability ranks high on the European Union’s agenda as a consequence to increasing global energy temperatures threatening humanity’s existence; this has resulted in the EU shaping an environmental framework policy for member states with a goal of shutting down power plants.
Jecqueline Pinedo, Beatričė Bankauskaitė
Environmentalists say that the goal of phasing out power plants is visible and crucial for climate changing issues. However, the European Union has no power to force countries to refuse to use coal as an energy source because every Member State has the right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources. Some EU countries face obstacles in refusing to use coal or has no strong interest in it.
The EU has been shaping the energy sector through its competencies with regards to the internal market, competition policy, and environment. Is it enough?
Historically, the world’s electricity energy source has been highly dependent on coal power plants. However, according to, a campaign Europe Beyond Coal spanning 28 countries that accelerates the transition to the country’s future without coal, 18 percent of Europe’s greenhouse gases in 2015 were contributed due to smoke being released by 284 power plants within European countries.
The EU sustainable framework plans to shut down coal power plants and transition to 32 percent renewable energy by 2040.
However, countries like Poland are still highly reliant on coal industries and face more difficulties when attempting to phase out coal power plants. Poland’s name stands strong in relation to mining roots and thousands come from the countries mining industry.
According to the EU Commission, Cabinet of Maros Sefcovic (responsible of energy and climate issues in EU Commsion) each countries energy mix is their own “prerogative”. EU Commission has no direct right to force EU member states to switch their energy sources to renewables.
The coal smoke cloud may not roll away.
Face of Poland coal industry
According to Anna Mikulska, Ph.D. nonresident fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, Center for Energy Studies, Poland is rich in fossil fuels, contributing to 80% of the countries energy source and continuously ranking at the top of EU’s biggest coal energy producers.
According to the EU Commission, Poland’s economy is very much dependent on coal. 50 percent of energy produced in Poland is coal, 25 percent is oil, 15 percent is gas and approximately 10 percent is renewable energy. A total of 75 percent of energy sources in Poland is coal and oil, which generate a lot of emissions.
For European Member state Poland, transitioning to renewable energy is a lofty task.
“When you think about renewables they are an intermittent industry and it’s hard to run,” said Mikulska. “Globally, Poland is not the most sunny place so it’s not going to be as productive in terms of renewable energy, you need to have a backup energy source [capacity mechanism], and if you need to have a backup that almost doubles your sources of energy generation.”
E.U. countries, such as Poland, that lack a constant flow of renewables such as sunlight, wind, rain, waves, and geothermal heat are turning to alternative methods such as capacity mechanism to meet the E.U’s renewable energy goal.
For Greenpeace policy adviser, Sebastian Mang, investing in capacity mechanism means investing in non-renewable energy and making the nonrenewable market more competitive in price compared to renewables.
“The argument that Poland can’t transition to renewables is wrong,” said Mang. “Poland has not tried to transition, yes coal is intertwined in their culture, but that culture also surrounds a population where death is common from health related impacts due to coal pollution”
According to a poll conducted by the European Environmental Agency, Poland is home to six of Europe’s ten most polluted cities. This has contributed to thousands of premature deaths in Poland and thousands of people being exposed to carcinogenic air quality.
Krakow, Poland it the most polluted city in the EU. Consequently, air conditions have reached such extreme pollution levels that the city has decided to ban the burning of coal when homes use their heaters. According to the EU Commission, drones fly from chimney to chimney measuring emissions being emitted by each household.
A controversial Polish company joined the coal industry despite the EU’s sustainable framework. According to Reuters, shareholders in Polish state-run utility Energa, approved a plan to build Ostroleka, a 1 gigawatt (GW) coal-fuelled power plant, despite opposition from environmental groups. The power plant will start produce electricity in 2023.
According to Mang, the decision to move forward with the Ostroleka project was politically influenced due to the coming elections.
However, if we look at Poland’s history with coal, the country has made strides to minimize their coal dependency. According to the EU Commission, 50 years ago Poland had 70 coal mines but now it only has 28 coal mines and it was recently decided to phase eight more coal mines.
Additionally, fifty years ago production of the coal was 190 million tones, now production is around 65 million tones.
Polish officials did not give an official comment on the coal situation in their country. However, Bildziukiewicz Martyna – deputy Spokesperson of Polish representative said that the Polish Ministry of Energy is currently preparing a new strategy on renewable sources and will be announced by the end of the year.
EU has no direct rights to push the countries
However, according to commission officials, the EU commission, Council and Parliament can’t impose any obligations on any Member State to shut down coal power plants or nuclear plants.
Theoretically, a member state can continue to use coal and nuclear energy come 2050. It is solely up to the Member State to decide whether they will move forward with renewable energy.
Nonetheless, the EU’s framework to transition to renewable energy is based on a collective percentage of all EU Member States. This is part of their Emission Trading System (ETS) which encompasses electricity and heating, industrial oil and gas and aviation emissions.
The market-based approach of ETS helps control pollutants within the EU however for Mang this isn’t enough.
“Europe contributes 10 percent of global emissions, that is not insignificant,” said Mang. “Europe emissions are huge, we have a responsibility to go further now, we have the money, technology and understanding.”
However, according to professor Mikulska, the EU provided Poland with funds to restructure their coal industries not to phase out their coal economy.
Although, the EU is calling for member states to restructure and modify their countries relationship to coal Member States like Poland are struggling with the transition to renewable energy.
According to Centre Européen de l’Entreprise Publique Policy Analyst, Michal Lugosz, lobbies for countries like Poland and Romania to have longer periods to target renewable energy goals with lower targets that keep social measures and transition funds in mind.
“For some countries, it would be more costly and will take a bit more time to transition to a low carbon economy,” said Lugosz. “That should be acknowledged and a narration for tailor based measures should be acknowledged for different circumstances.”
Future of electricity without borders?
The EU and Member States are currently discussing a new proposal on the electricity market design and three legislative proposals.
The EU Commission said that 20 years ago countries were talking about self-sufficiency in good markets, but today no one sees the problem by trading goods stuff within Europe. The same scenario, according to the Commission, could be adapted to electricity market in Europe by building interconnectors and creating a framework of a one single Europe electricity.
“We are starting to build really functioning single electricity markets,” said the EU Commission. “Which should or will create the conditions for better trading of electricity across the borders.”
Electricity market within Europe borders would help limit capacity mechanism by using neighbor country electricity in situations of need. However, each member state is still in a mindset that they need to keep as much production on the own territory, said EU Commission.
Power of market
Interlocutors agree that ETS is a big tool to influence power plant operators and one of the most important roles it plays is the market prices.
Renewables are becoming cheaper and to keep power plants and get benefit from the pants is much more difficult and according to Mang this is a positive affect.
According to commission officials, the new framework would limit the possibility of a member state generating electricity from a power plant that not adhering to certain standards concerning limits of CO2.
Although this new framework would encompass stricter rules for power plants, the EU simply uses these tools to influence the members states on what they do. They cannot impose obligations to member states to close down their power plants.
However, they can warrant fines for those member states who do not meet the requested framework. Through this, commission official predict the market will be the one to influence the decision and basically influence the operators of power plants if they are able to compete in the market.
“Scary” future of planet
Although the agreement to phase power plants can seem as something so distant from the everyday life of a person it actually has a direct effect. According to Mang, a “scary future” is on the horizon and we will witness it within 12 years.
“We have scientists that say if we do not turn around our economy within 12 years, then we will overshot the global temperature by 1.5 degree,” said Mang. “And the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees for our world global temperature is huge.”
For example, with a 1.5 °C the world will face an ice-free arctic. (see photo below) According to Mang, some cities will be flooded due to arctic ice melting causing an influx of refugees.
Arguably the UK’s closest European Union ally, Sweden now faces an identity crisis. But recent fears over the Brexit fallout have seen the Sweden Democrats’ demands for a similar national movement garner widespread criticism.
Annie McCann and Thomas Balbierer | 16 October 2018.
The Sweden Democrats’ share of parliamentary seats increased more dramatically than any other party in last month’s Swedish general election. With the European Parliament elections looming ever closer, the right-wing populist party has renewed its calls to exit the EU.
Perhaps one of the loudest national Swexit advocates is Sweden Democrat and MEP for the European Conservative and Reformers group (ECR) Peter Lundgren. The staunch Eurosceptic, who conversely voted to enter the EU in the 1994 Swedish referendum, claims that the EU’s good intentions have since been lost amidst its members’ selfish ambitions.
“This started out as a good project from the very beginning,” Lundgren said. “It has been a very good peacekeeping project.”
“The problem is, they have ambitions in this house. We went from a union that was about cooperation, making it easier to travel and to trade with each other, into a political union where the majority have a very clear political line of what they want to achieve.”
As one of 20 Swedish MEPs, Lundgren says they hold little to no power in the European Parliament.
“I constantly feel it’s like being run over by a train,” Lundgren said. “No matter what arguments we try to raise when it’s a bad proposal, they don’t listen to you. They just ram you over like a train crash.”
Already, real wage growth and household income have stagnated since the Brexit vote, and the UK stock market has dropped in comparison to other developed countries. Despite this, Pew Research Center reported that more Swedish citizens view Brexit as being harmful to the EU than to the UK.
The estimated consequences of Swexit are similarly dire, with Oxford Economics predicting 73,000 fewer jobs and a 4 percent decrease in GDP in Sweden by 2031.
Lundgren, however, says expert advice seldom paints a realistic picture.
“There were so many experts who said that the UK leaving the membership of the European Union is out of the question,” Lundgren said. “They misjudge the common people completely.”
“If there’s something they are always right in, it’s being wrong.”
Swexit and Sovereignty
Studies show the majority of EU countries, including Sweden, would prefer their national government to control migration and trade decisions instead of the EU. Lundgren argues for sovereignty in policy sectors such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, immigration and – his personal area of expertise – transport.
Swedish European Green Party MEP and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Fisheries Linnéa Engström argues that these issues must be tackled from a broader perspective.
“One of the reasons why fisheries policy today is an exclusive EU competence is that fish do not know national borders. Common resources demand common management,” Engström said.
“The same reasoning applies to the transport sector. My party is working very hard to integrate the railway systems in Europe. Peter Lundgren might think that heavy vehicles should continue to carry out most of the transport in Europe, but how is that policy applicable towards the threat of global warming?”
Swexit remains unlikely, but not unimaginable
Swexit is not as big a movement as the Sweden Democrats want people to believe, according to a Swedish journalist who has covered EU politics for over a decade. However, MEPs like Engström remain wary of the growing populist movement in light of the upcoming European Parliament elections.
“There is a risk that Eurosceptic parties will gain. Simple solutions, however ineffective or wrong they might be, are sometimes comfortable and appealing to voters. Our strategy will surely be to limit their influence.”
Far from setting a positive example, Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bath Roger Eatwell says Brexit has instead turned many populists off the idea of an EU exit.
“Most of the National Populist parties do not want to leave the EU,” Eatwell said. “The troubles over what exactly Brexit means has been a salutary lesson.
“Though, if Britain leaves and prospers after some short-run shocks, then this could be a game changer.”
EU’s newly implemented voluntary framework might increase the voting participation in the parliament election
By Mads Sejer Nielsen & Hyun-Joon Lee
The idea behind ESC might go beyond giving young people better opportunities for volunteering, it might even increase EU vote participation.
“Hopefully this project will show some of these youngsters the benefits of the European Union. Hopefully, it will make them responsible citizens and realize that it’s better to vote than not,” said Helga Trüpel, the main rapporteur of the European Solidarity Corps.
The average voting participation within the EU member states has gone down every year since its implementation in 1979 and was at its all-time low in 2014 with a turnout of only 42,61 percent across the EU.
The European Parliament is encouraging voters to participate through their ongoing campaign ‘This time I’m voting’ but the hope is that European Solidarity Corps might also indirectly cause an increase in turnout in addition to its function to improve possibilities for disadvantaged individuals.
On September 11th, the European Solidarity Corps had a legal framework through the debate at the European Parliament. The European Solidarity Corps in an attempt to strengthen solidarity all over the European society. Can this project successfully settle down on the whole European continent?
The European Union is currently facing three serious issues: Brexit, a refugee crisis and an economic crisis. One of the largest contributors to the EU, the UK, is leaving the EU on 29 March 2019, more and more European countries are encountering increasing hatred of refugees, and some states such as Greece, Italy, and Spain are having a hard time due to the financial crisis. According to the European Commission, this has undermined solidarity among European countries and citizens.
To break through those adversities and increase solidarity among European countries, representatives of EU member states have put their heads together to find a solution. On September 11th, as part of their efforts, members of the European Parliament voted in favor of laying down the legal framework for the European Solidarity Corps.
According to Helga Trüpel, the vice-chair of the Committee of Culture and Education and the main rapporteur of the project, the ESC is a voluntary project about additional possibilities and social mobility for young people, especially for disadvantaged youngsters.
“There is a lack of solidarity in the European Union and I think it’s a wonderful possibility to reach out to young people. Especially for disadvantaged young people who are not a part of the European spirit yet. In my point of view, this is a win-win situation, young people can learn a lot and develop themselves and they serve the communities,” said Helga Trüpel.
What is the European Solidarity Corps?
The European Solidarity Corps (ESC) had its beginning back in 2016 when the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Jüncker, proposed an increased focus on solidarity and announced a program targeted young people between 18 and 30 offering opportunities for volunteering.
Since December 2016, the time the original initiative was launched; almost 72,000 young European people interested in helping with solidarity action have registered to the European Solidarity Corps. Among them, 7,000 youngsters already have their work related to various topics such as environment, culture, social services, helping refugees, migrants, children or the elderly.
At the end of the next period, it is expected that around 100,000 young people will benefit from this program by getting funds from anywhere between two weeks to a maximum of one year.
519 vs 132 : Hope vs Concern
Despite an overwhelming majority of the parliament in favor of the dedicated legal base, there were several discussions and debates about the European Solidarity Corps at European Parliament on the 10th of September, primarily raising three major points, each concerning different aspects of the ESC.
The first point was raised by a Greek MEP, Georgios Epitideios from Golden Dawn expressing concerns about a possible misuse of the corps and further pointed out a need for focus on acquiring more jobs before improving on the solidarity.
“The European Union’s leadership is trying to confuse and deceive young people and refers to the need for voluntary work to promote solidarity. (…)Of course, volunteering, when properly applied, is a sign of solidarity, but for a young person to deal with issues and solidarity issues, he must first have secured his own work, his livelihood and his family,” he said.
Some MEPs raised a second point with primary concerns about the situation that the volunteering jobs created by the ESC could replace existing paid jobs.
According to Franz Obermayr, an Austrian MEP from freedom party of Austria, the Solidarity Corps’ volunteers assisting the European Football Championship have served as a free substitute for regular workers.
“It is nice for UEFA, but bad for taxpayers because we would subsidize a millionaire company and that certainly cannot be in the sense of the Solidarity Corps.” said Obermayr.
The last main concern towards the project was that the program might not be helpful in boosting solidarity among youngsters. Greece’s, Chountis Nikolaos, stated that:
“The economic crisis, unemployment, precarious work and the immigration of young people are not addressed by individual action and private initiative. Europe’s young people do not need to reinforce supposed volunteer and solidarity actions but to boost real spending on public education and to create quality jobs with full labor rights so that they can start their lives with dignity and to build a truly solidarity future for the peoples of Europe.”
Despite these concerns, a vast majority of 519 to 132 were for the proposal, and besides answering the critique in parliament on the 10th, Helga Trüpel further cemented her standpoint in an interview with us.
“This is not designed to help fight youth unemployment, but I think it will contribute to the fight since these individuals will have acquired more skills and feel empowered after participating in a solidarity project,” she said.
The framework in effect
The ESC allows voluntary organizations to apply for special Quality Labels. The type of label depends on which activities the organization wishes to facilitate, and upon approval from the ESC, the organization is then able to apply for funding through the ESC. The organizations need to fulfill requirements similar to the current Erasmus+ program, and projects already involved with Erasmus+ will not need approval until 2020.
By taking part in activities such as education, environment or helping refugees for at least two weeks to a maximum of one year, young people can acquire experience for personal, social and professional development, including learning and training.
A report created by the European Commission shows that 76% of young people who already have registered in the project since 2016 replied that their strand of participation to the project was volunteering, jobs and traineeships.
When it comes to the number of registration by nationality, Spain, Italy, and France are ranked at the first, the second and the third place which has relatively high unemployment rates compared to the average rate of 28 European Union member states.
It seems obvious that the ESC is attracting young people who are seeking jobs considering the high attention from the countries suffering increased youth unemployment, and if the ESC actually delivers on its promises of increasing the skills and empowers young people, Helga Trüpel is expecting to see results in a few years.
Now, the drive to strengthen and recover European solidarity has started. On the way, there are some concerns and obstacles exist. Can the European Solidarity Corps be an ESC-key for both the disadvantaged and the European solidarity crisis?
The tech-giants in the EU have adopted a new self-regulatory Code of Practice in the fight against disinformation. The Code, that has been signed by major companies like Twitter and Facebook, is facing criticism from different parties within the media world for being futile. Is the new Code of Practice a crucial step in the right direction or just an unimportant piece of cooperation?
By Stephanie Harris and Emil Rosborg
On September 26th, the European Commission announced that many of the major tech companies in Europe had signed a voluntary Code of Practice, where the companies acknowledge their responsibility and role in fighting the disinformation that have tainted elections in western democracies over the last years. With this Code of Practice, the companies vow to abide by certain standards in order to fight disinformation and encourage truthful information of the public.
The Code of Practice contains a number of different commitments that aim to fight the disinformation and misinterpretation of information. Most notably, the signatories of the Code vow to enhance transparency in political advertising and making it easier for the consumers to distinguish between political advertising and “real” news, providing fact-checking tools and enhancing the visibility of trustworthy news.
Dialogue between politicians and IT-companies is crucial
The focus on the impact that disinformation has on the democracy of European countries is a result of the growing concern that the disinformation has a negative effect on the public’s ability to elect a leader on an informed basis. Many different countries have shared these worries and have been eager to see some sort of ruling/law that would combat disinformation. In his State of the Union speech, the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, addressed the issue and announced that new steps would be taken:
“We must protect our free and fair elections. This is why the Commission is today proposing new rules to better protect our democratic processes from manipulation by third countries or private interests.”
Jean-Claude Junckers point of view was backed by the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová, who stated in a speech that the IT companies have great power and responsibility and therefore need to be in dialogue with the politicians and that this is essentially a question of freedom:
“We have to do everything to protect everyone’s freedom to make their own choice. We have to fight hatred and lies with love and truth.”
As soon as the Code was released, there were many mixed reactions. Yet, the majority of the reactions were positive. The main people who support the code and the way that it will be implemented are the Committee itself. Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, showed some support for the new Code in the press release regarding the Code of Practice:
“The industry is committing to a wide range of actions, from transparency in political advertising to the closure of fake accounts and demonetization of purveyors of disinformation, and we welcome this.”
Furthermore, Gabriel expressed faith in the Codes potential to achieve results and urged other online platforms, that have not yet signed the Code of Practice follow suit as quickly as possible:
“I urge online platforms and the advertising industry to immediately start implementing the actions agreed in the Code of Practice to achieve significant progress and measurable results in the coming months. I also expect more and more online platforms, advertising companies and advertisers to adhere to the Code of Practice, and I encourage everyone to make their utmost to put their commitments into practice to fight disinformation.”
Criticism from the stakeholders
The new Code was also met with some harsh criticism from different stakeholders and experts in the media world. One of these outlets that has been vocal about their dislike of the new code is the European Federation of Journalists. Days after the Code was announced, they came out with an article explaining that the Code of Practice is unimportant due to its self-regulatory nature:
“…(the Code contains) no common approach, no meaningful commitments, no measurable objectives or key performance indicators (KPIs), no compliance or enforcement tools and hence no possibility to monitor the implementation process”
Twitter, one of the signatories of the Code of Practice, have not been willing to respond to the criticism made by the EFJ, but have given a statement showing their support for the project:
“Twitter is fully committed to the process surrounding the development of a Code of Practice tackling disinformation at the EU level. Along with our industry partners, we recognise the need to develop a solution to what is a complex, societal issue and an issue which requires meaningful input from industry, law enforcement, journalists, Government and civil society actors.”
Reactions from HLEG Members
After the release of the Code of Practice, some of the members of the HLEG voiced their opinions about it. Although they were the ones that drafted it and eventually released it, some of the members came out with a statement recognizing the imperfections of the Code and their opinions about it. These members include: Clara Jiménez Cruz, Alexios Mantzarlis, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Claire Wardle, and Grégoire Lemarchand
“We do not think that the report is perfect; collaboratively editing and agreeing on a document like this in such a short span of time was always going to require compromise from everyone involved.”
Further actions possible
Since the Code of Practice is new, it is too far hard to tell whether or not the Code will prove to be a success. Due to possible impacts on free speech, the EU has hesitated towards passing concrete legislation, but Mariya Gabriel is not ruling out that legislation will be an issue, should the Code of Practice prove to be insufficient, or if the tech companies fail to abide by it:
“Should the results prove unsatisfactory, the Commission may propose further actions, including actions of a regulatory nature.”
Internet media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Mozilla have adopted a new self-regulatory Code of Practice in the battle to fight the disinformation that has played an unfortunate role in western elections in recent years.