EU Council: The US airlines may freely pollute the European air

Agriculture/Fisheries Council - General view (Council of the European Union, photographic library).

Agriculture/Fisheries Council – General view, 22/4/2013, (Council of the European Union, photographic library).

The European Union dignitaries could at least have waited for the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, to leave Brussels before offering him yesterday our European dignity as a gift, for his first official visit to the EU capital city. The day that Kerry set his foot on Brussels, the European Council revoked the obligation of the international air line operators (companies offering long distance trips in and out of the EU, most of which are American) in respect with the EU scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading system (directive 2003/87/EC establishing the EU scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading (11/13, 8352/13 ADD18352/13 ADD2).

Unfortunately our own European airline operators don’t have a US State Secretary to speak for them and they are not exempted from the EU/ETS. The same is true for the airlines of the neighbouring with the EU countries. According to the Council decision, “The EU/ETS directive will continue to apply in full to intra-EU flights and flights between the EU and a number of closely connected areas and territories”. For God’s sake who could think for a second, that for example the Russian air companies, could be considered on an equal footing with the Americans?

US Senate über alles

The issue is not new. Marielle de Sarnez (ALDE) a member of the European Parliament, submitted last January in the EU Parliament a relevant written question to the Commission. The text of the MEP’s question is very informative. It goes like that: “Subject: US Government ban on US aircraft operators participating in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU/ETS). In January 2012, the Commission decided to extend the EU/ETS to include aviation, in an effort to encourage the aviation industry to reduce carbon emissions and develop eco-friendly fuels. Under the Commission’s plans, the 5,000 EU and non-EU airlines which operate flights into and out of Europe will be allocated an overall annual carbon allowance of 210.3 million metric tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). Although the Court of Justice of the European Union has confirmed that the EU/ETS is consistent with international law, in late November 2012 the US Government enacted a law prohibiting US aircraft operators from participating in the EU/ETS, on the basis that the EU does not have the right to impose a tax on US citizens in respect of flights in US airspace. What steps is the Commission planning to take in response to the US Government’s decision, particularly in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)?”

Obviously the EU authorities answered yesterday this MEP’s question by deferring the obligation of the international aircraft operators from any environmental levy. Of course it will not be only the American air companies to profit from this exemption. All long distance international flights coming in and out from the EU will be exempted from participating and paying their dues to the EU/ETS. The vast majority of long distance flights are to and from the US. On top of that the US authorities went as far as to forbid their country’s air companies from participating in the EU/ETS.

Waiting for Kerry

Let’s see now how the EU authorities managed this gift to the US, to coincide yesterday with the first visit of the new American Secretary of State John Kerry to Brussels. This kind of semantics is very important and is very highly estimated in the circles of top politics. Seemingly the two ‘highest’ Brussels authorities, the President of the Commission Manual Barroso and the President of the Council Herman Van Rompuy had to cooperate very closely and work very hard to make this happen.
For one thing this decision was taken yesterday 22 April, without discussion, at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting. For this EU ‘welcoming’ to the new American Secretary of State, Barroso and Rompuy needed of course the closest cooperation of the two EU Commissioners responsible for Argiculrture and Fisheries, the Romanian Dacian Cioloş and the Greek Maria Damanaki. Both of them are equally responsible for this.

As a result the American airline operators as from yesterday are exempted from the European Union rules. The most important parts of this decision are the following: “The Council adopted today (22 April 2013) a decision derogating temporarily from directive 2003/87/EC establishing the EU scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading (11/13, 8352/13 ADD18352/13 ADD2)…The decision temporarily defers enforcement of the obligations of aircraft operators in respect of incoming and outgoing international flights under the EU emissions trading system for 2012. It will temporarily exempt airlines from the ETS requirement to report carbon emissions for flights between EU airports and third countries, and sanctions will not be imposed for failure to report”.

Anyway it’s cheap to pollute

In any case the EU scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading has collapsed, with the prices of the rights to pollute having reached such levels that today it is very cheap to pollute. Another MEP has submitted in the EU Parliament a very relevant question on this issue. On 4 February 2013MEP João Ferreira (GUE/NGL) asked the Commission the following question: “The price of a metric tonne of carbon under the Emissions Trading System (ETS) has hit an all-time low of €2.81, further reducing any incentive to switch to low-carbon technologies. According to some analysts, the price of a metric tonne of carbon would have to reach at least €20 for the ETS to effectively stimulate investment in these technologies. In other words, the market mechanisms so highly acclaimed by Commission have proven to be ineffective and ill-advised. Polluters continue to evade taxes and make huge profits, once again revealing the essence of the carbon market: to encourage speculation and business as usual as far as emissions are concerned. Does the Commission not think that there is sufficient evidence to prove that the ETS has failed?”

Understandably the Commission answered yesterday Mr Ferreira’s question in the same manner as it replied to the question of Ms de Sarnez. It is really deplorable to watch the EU authorities to comply with the American demands even in a case, where the cost to the US airliners would have been minimal. Still Washington didn’t accept to compromise, ostentatiously expecting Brussels to succumb to the American dictums.

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