EU Climate agenda: key MEP to watch

© European Union 2019 – Source : EP / ERIC VIDAL

This report is the second instance of our new series on individual MEPs: Getting to know the decision-makers. We launched this series last week when we looked at the track record of the rapporteur on the Just Transition Fund. In these reports, we look beyond mere statements and learn the actual directions in which the politicians work to influence EU legislation. Over the past 11 years since we launched VoteWatch Europe, we have witnessed many situations in which stakeholders and citizens know very little or are even led into thinking the opposite of who influences and how the EU decision-making. For more information, feel free to contact us at [email protected]

This week, the European Commission has put forward another key component of its European Green Deal, namely the proposal for an EU climate law. This further shows how environmental policy is set to play a central role in advancing the EU regulatory outreach during the current legislative cycle. In addition to the main proposals on climate targets, the push for a ‘greener’ Europe is being mainstreamed across most policy areas: energy, agriculture, transport, finance, budget, regional affairs, international trade, and many others.

As the environment takes the centre stage, the power of the ENVI Committee, which has recently become the biggest committee in the European Parliament, is set to further increase. In light of this, the ability of Macron’s party to get one of its members, Pascal Canfin, elected as the chair of the committee can be seen as a major achievement for the French centrists. From his new position, the French MEP will be able to supervise the regulation of highly strategic sectors.

The election of a former Green MEP to the helm of ENVI can be seen as a key component of the increasing convergence between centrist Renew Europe and left-wing forces on regulatory topics, as revealed by our special report on the dynamics in the new EP. These developments are weakening EPP’s position in the European Parliament, as the group led by Manfred Weber has lost more votes than the Green group on ENVI topics decided in the European Parliament. 

After looking at the track record of the rapporteur on the Just Transition Fund (Greek Manolis Kefalogiannis) last week, in this report, we take a look at how Canfin is trying to influence the positions of the European Parliament, with a particular focus on his emerging role as one of the drivers of Renew Europe’s shift to the left. 

A note of caution: we need to be aware that in a more fragmented EP, the power of rapporteurs and other political leaders is diminished, hence one also has to pay attention to many other influencers that will shape the final outcome of legislation. That being said, looking at the track record of key MEPs does help us understand their starting positions in the negotiations they will need to conduct with the other influencers.

NB: our research looks into the actual positions of politicians when key texts (amendments, paragraphs, etc.) are being decided, thus filtering the noise produced by various non-independent reporting.

VoteWatch Europe is a leading intelligence source on EU policy-making.  Our premium subscribers (such as EU public and private influencers, top universities, etc.), benefit from the most advanced analytical tools in EU politics. We also deliver tailored research, presentations or training on MEPs’  and governments’ likely positions and majority building in specific areas. If you are interested in a private service, send us an email ([email protected]) or give us a call (+32 2 318 11 88).

Background on the decision-maker 

Name: Pascal Canfin

Country & Region: France (Arras)

National party: Liste Renaissance (currently in government); until 2019 Europe Écologie Les Verts.

European party: Renew Europe Group; previously Greens/EFA.

MEP: 2009-2012. 2019 – present.

EP Committees: Chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety; Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (substitute).

EP Delegations: Delegation on Mexico (member); Delegation on Latin America (member); Delegation on Southeast Asia (substitute).

Previous EP experience: Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on the Financial, Economic and Social Crisis; Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (member); Delegation for relations with the United States (member).

Previous executive experience: Minister of Development (2012 – 2014)

Voting behaviour – Overall level of alignment with European group: 92.83%

Voting behaviour – Overall level of alignment with national party: 97.98%

Voting behaviour – Overall participation in votes: 96.48%

Control of the most powerful committee provides Macron with stronger influence in the EP

After winning the Presidential elections in 2017 on a platform featuring bold proposals on EU reforms, Macron’s ambition had to come to terms with the slower pace of EU consensus-building processes. In this regard, the reshuffle taking place last year was a key moment for the French President, as he got the chance to increase his leverage in the two institutions where his new political force was not represented, namely the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Despite initial setbacks due to the rejection of the French Commissioner-nominee Sylvie Goulard and the unsuccessful bid by Nathalie Loiseau for the leadership of the Renew Europe group, Canfin’s election as the chair of the most powerful EP Committee is a key indicator of the leverage of Macron’s party in the new European Parliament. Our previous analysis of the main winners and losers of the distribution of the leadership positions in the EP revealed that the French delegation has started regaining influence within the EP compared to the previous term, mainly due to the strong position of the French as the biggest delegation within the Renew Europe group by far (while the smaller size of French delegations in EPP and S&D make it more difficult for them to influence the direction of their own groups). 

While our previous  assessment of influence found that none of the French MEPs were among the top 15 most influential Members of the European Parliament during the past term, Canfin is currently a strong candidate to make it to the top of the ranking in our next update. However, holding a formal leadership position on its own is not enough. One also needs to build majorities to get things done, and this is increasingly difficult in a more fragmented EP. In the next sections, we will look at how the French MEP contributes to coalition-building in the EP. 

Stay tuned to our incoming influence assessment of MEPs and see exactly where Pascal Canfin stands when compared to other influential legislators.

Canfin: emerging leader of Renew Europe’s left-wing 

Our previous research shows that Renew Europe is the main kingmaker in the new European Parliament, due to its central position in the political spectrum. That is also the case on ENVI topics, where this group is on the winning side more than 90% of the time. ENVI is also the policy area where the main groups (EPP, Renew Europe and S&D) tend to disagree with each other the most, as the left-right cleavage is more common in ENVI than in other policy areas. This means that Renew Europe can often swing the vote one way or the other depending on whether it sides with the EPP or with the left. 

While during the last term, ALDE was closer to ECR on ENVI topics than to the Greens/EFA, things have changed substantially after the elections. For instance, with regards to EU goals of reduction of GHG emissions, the centrist group sides with the left-leaning groups in favouring a 55% reduction intermediate target for 2030, which, according to the proponents, should be enshrined as a binding target in the new EU climate law. The support by Renew Europe for such ambitious proposals (which used to be less popular among MEPs before the elections of 2019) provides the centre-left coalition with a conformable majority, as the groups opposing the higher intermediate target end up on the minority side, including the EPP.

Even on international trade, a policy area where centre-right forces are often on the winning side, Renew Europe’s pivot to the left deals occasional blows to the supporters of free-trade. For instance, the group sided with the centre-left (and against the EPP and the supporters for free trade), in supporting the inclusion of a mandatory clause on the ratification and implementation of the Paris Agreement in all future trade agreements. As the map below shows, French MEPs are, on average, among the biggest supporters of linking the climate agenda with the trade agreements. 

All of this puts into perspective the election of Pascal Canfin, a former member of the Greens/EFA group and Director of WWF in France, as the chair of ENVI. Canfin’s green credentials are helping bridge the differences between the centrist forces and the left, with the former moving closer to the latter. 

Canfin’s role as a bridge between the center and the left is most visible in the instances in which he did not vote as his national party but sided with the Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL. For instance, Canfin supports a global moratorium on the release in the nature of gene drive organisms, therefore voting differently from his own party’s colleagues. Also, while the French members of Renew Europe rejected a proposal stressing the link between agriculture and biodiversity loss, Canfin showed indecision and abstained. Finally, compared to his national party’s colleagues, the MEP from Arras is more supportive of assessing the compatibility of EU funding with climate objectives (which might notably affect policy areas such as agriculture). These examples show that Canfin’s views are clearly influenced by his past as a Green MEP and environmental activist. Our data shows that, differently from Renew Europe as a whole, he agrees substantially more often with the Greens on ENVI issues than with the EPP.

Debate on nuclear energy puts French MEPs on the defensive, as their ‘green’ credentials are at stake

Clearly, not everyone is happy about the rising influence of French MEPs on regulatory topics. Hostile forces are keen on denouncing the alleged hypocrisy of Canfin and his colleagues in sticking to French interests on contentious issues that are occasionally framed as environmental matters, such as the issue of the EP single seat and the Mobility Package. 

While the advocates for a single seat for the EP often refer to the expensiveness of such arrangement, the seat in Strasbourg is now being linked to the issue of emissions as a way of putting the French on the defensive by going after their ‘green’ credentials. In fact, Canfin and his allies repeatedly defended the French position of keeping Strasbourg as the main seat for the EP plenaries (the French resistance should be also seen as part of a de-facto agreement between Germany and France to host one EU institution each – the EP in France and the ECB in Germany). 

Similarly, CEE politicians, in particular Polish, Hungarians, Romanians, and Bulgarians, recently re-framed the debate on the disputed Mobility Package (which was initiated under French pressure) in environmental terms. In fact, the final compromise on the Mobility Package requires trucks to return to their country of origin every eight weeks, which is leading to increases in CO2 emissions due to empty trucks being forced to go back and forth across European roads. For this reason, the measure is seen as a way to simply make it harder for CEE drivers to compete on the French and Western markets. Also, in this case, Canfin and his colleagues defended the French positions (a rare occasion when the position of French from all parties converged in the European Parliament). Notably, the Greens (dominated by Germans and the French and which are not represented in the CEE region) and the other left-wing groups also sided with the French. 

However, nuclear energy is more likely to drive a wedge between the French LREM and their allies on the left-wing part of the political spectrum. In the context of the Commission’s plans to cut the EU’s emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, Macron has been at the forefront of promoting nuclear energy as a low-emission alternative of producing electricity. However, MEPs from Macron’s party seem to have more nuanced views on the matter, perhaps due to their cooperation with the left-leaning groups which, differently from the EPP, are highly critical of the environmental impact of nuclear energy. So far, MEP Canfin sided with the left when it comes to opposing a stronger role of nuclear energy in the EU climate plans (a similar stance is adopted by his other party colleague within ENVI – Véronique Tillet-Lenoir). However, other members of the French Renew delegation are less aligned with the left, some of them opting for the abstention, while others are more aligned with the position of the EPP. 

The mixed positions of the French MEPs from Renew Europe also shed light on their priorities in terms of coalition-building. In fact, the debate on nuclear energy could be a potential opportunity for them to strengthen their relations with the EPP and the MEPs from CEE (which are otherwise at loggerheads with them on several other topics). The graph below shows the level of support for the stronger promotion of nuclear energy by national group in the EP. It is quite interesting to see that MEPs from Poland and Czechia are, on average, more supportive of upgrading the role of nuclear energy in the European Green Deal than those coming from the EU nuclear powerhouse, France. 

The role of bridge-builders like Canfin is going to be particularly important due to the high level of fragmentation within the current European Parliament. As the size of the big groups have shrunk, coalition-building becomes increasingly difficult, decreasing the traditional power of the rapporteurs (which often act as representatives of their own political groups). Our previous research already revealed that rapporteurs lose more votes than one would expect when votes are cast on amendments to their own reports. The observable shrinking cohesion of some political groups makes the life of rapporteurs more difficult, while at the same time moving power away to other leading figures among the MEPs (like the national delegations’ leaders, etc.).

For these reasons, smart stakeholders also pay attention to the positions and actions of the less visible influencers, those who, even though may not hold a formal role, can swing away the outcome of a decision by leveraging their political networks. Against this background of increased instability, the need to treat each MEP as an influencer and to find the hidden potential allies becomes evident.

VoteWatch Europe is a leading intelligence source on EU policy-making.  Our premium subscribers (such as EU public and private influencers, top universities, etc.), benefit from the most advanced analytical tools in EU politics. We also deliver tailored research, presentations or training on MEPs’  and governments’ likely positions and majority building in specific areas. If you are interested in a private service, send us an email ([email protected]) or give us a call (+32 2 318 11 88)