EU Commissioner Nominee Raises Eyebrows as French Minister Calls on Minimum Price for Flights: GMPB

The Green Mobility Policy Briefings are back! Covered in this week’s GMPB: Von der Leyen climate nominee raises eyebrows; French transport minister calls on price floor for flights; EU to seek fossil Fuel phase-out agreement at COP28; Dutch government to cut Amsterdam airport’s flights.

Von der Leyen climate nominee raises eyebrows. The European Commission has put forward Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra as the nominee for the European Union’s latest Commissioner, replacing Frans Timmermans. Ursula Von Der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive branch, her selection of Hoekstra to lead the EU’s climate finance efforts and climate diplomacy leading up to Cop28. In a statement, President von der Leyen said that “Mr Hoekstra showed strong motivation for the post and great commitment to the European Union. He also has relevant professional experience for this post.” adding that “Mr Hoekstra stressed during the interview his commitment to continuing an ambitious climate policy and to maintaining a social balance in all necessary joint efforts on the road to climate neutrality.” Although favoured by the executive branch, Hoekstra must still gain the approval of the European Parliament’s environment committee, which could be a challenging task. Some left-wing members argue that the centre-right Dutchman lacks a strong enough track record on climate issues; a position backed by a group of leading European NGOs, who raised concerns about Hoekstra’s “lack of expertise on EU climate policy” in a letter to Von der Leyen.

French transport minister calls on price floor for flights. On Wednesday, August 30th, France’s Minister of Transportation, Clement Beaune, urged the implementation of a minimum price for air travel within Europe as a measure to combat climate change. Beaune stated during an interview with the weekly magazine L’Obs that he intends to present this proposal to his European Union counterparts in the coming days. In his remarks, Beaune emphasized that the sale of plane tickets for as little as 10 euros is no longer acceptable in the context of the ongoing ecological transition. He expressed that such pricing does not align with the true environmental cost associated with air travel. Low-cost airlines, like Ryanair and easyJet, have gained prominence in Europe by offering extremely affordable fares on select routes. However, these budget-friendly fares often do not fully cover their environmental costs. Beaune openly advocated for implementing taxes on polluting activities to support investments in the ecological transition. He mentioned that the French government intends to raise taxes on flights departing from France to fund railway infrastructure improvements. It is anticipated that increased levies on companies managing France’s highways and on airline tickets may be included in the 2024 budget, which is scheduled to be unveiled at the end of September.

EU to seek fossil Fuel phase-out agreement at COP28. The EU and member states are gearing up to advocate for a global agreement to phase out fossil fuels at the upcoming United Nations COP28 climate summit, scheduled to commence in November. A draft of the EU’s negotiating position has provided insight into this endeavour. Diplomats representing the 27 EU member states are currently formulating their stance for the summit in Dubai, where nearly 200 nations will convene to bolster their collective efforts in combatting climate change. The draft of the EU’s negotiating position, as observed by Reuters, emphasizes that the transition to a climate-neutral economy necessitates a worldwide cessation of unabated fossil fuel use and an imminent peak in their consumption. In this context, “unabated” refers to the burning of fossil fuels without employing technologies to capture and mitigate the resulting CO2 emissions. EU diplomats are optimistic about the possibility of securing an agreement during COP28, although they anticipate opposition from economies heavily reliant on revenue generated from the sale of oil and gas. Despite the critical role of fossil fuels as a primary driver of climate change, prior UN climate negotiations have never resulted in a unanimous commitment to gradually cease the burning of all CO2-emitting fossil fuels.

Dutch government to cut Amsterdam airport’s flights. The Dutch government is moving forward with a proposal to decrease the volume of flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport starting next year. This decision has been made despite strong opposition from airlines that operate at the airport, which happens to be one of Europe’s busiest aviation centres. The government’s objective is to reduce both noise pollution and CO2 emissions by reducing the annual number of flights from 500,000 to 452,500, effective from November 2024. This reduction represents a 9.5% decrease compared to 2019 levels and is slightly lower than a previous suggestion of 460,000 flights. Transport Minister Mark Harbers stated, “Aviation can bring significant benefits to the Netherlands, as long as we address the adverse effects on residents living near the airport.” However, it’s worth noting that this flight cap still requires approval from the European Commission. In a press release, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that it was “shocked and disappointed” by the government’s move, as Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, claimed that plans “shows a contempt for democratic and legal scrutiny, and a cavalier approach to the Netherlands’ treaty obligations with respect to international law.”