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Much-hyped EU climate package marred by growing divisions over cost

Financial Times

In what threatens to be a foreshadowing of disputes to come, a sizeable number of EU commissioners voiced opposition to parts of a climate package that would raise the cost of polluting for swaths of European business and households over decades, officials told the Financial Times.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen unveils proposals to govern transition to low carbon economy dubbed “European Green Deal” during a press conference at the EU Parliament in Brussels on July 14, 2021. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

One commissioner — Austria’s budget chief Johannes Hahn — voted against the greening policies during a tense meeting of the EU’s executive ahead of the grand unveiling yesterday. Another six commissioners raised detailed objections to plans to extend carbon pricing to cars and tougher emissions standards for automakers, according to insiders.

The divisions soured the mood on a day that was meant to mark the culmination of months of painstaking work on 13 legislative measures designed to reduce emissions by making polluters pay or adopt greener alternatives.

Despite protestations from members of the college, the final package contained no major surprises. “There was long debate and the airing of differences, but in the end nothing changed,” said one official familiar with the discussion. Here’s the FT’s breakdown of what it all means.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tried to paper over the cracks at a messy press conference where the messaging ultimately fell flat.

Von der Leyen appeared alongside six of her commissioners in a spectacle that struggled to convey the urgency of the climate crisis and instead descended into technicalities.

The dissonance reflects the competing and often conflictual approach to achieving the bloc’s green goals across the EU.

Von der Leyen has come under fire for choosing to extend carbon pricing — a policy that is firmly backed by her home country Germany but which has been fiercely criticised by environmental groups and other member states for making the poorest households bear the rising cost of pollution. Industry groups have also lashed out at policies they say will deprive them of money to invest and innovate in green technology.

In a partial acknowledgment of the dud delivery, the commission has dropped the jarring “Fit for 55” title that has been widely ridiculed for resembling a boot camp for the middle-aged. But the title, like yesterday’s unveiling, will stay long in memory.

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