New study on how and why social issues have increased in prominence during the EP negotiations

Progress towards inclusive economic transition but need for further improvements in terminology and framing of vulnerable groups


Found progress towards inclusive economic transition but need for further improvements to terminology and framing of vulnerable groups. 

A new report from FEPS, the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), explores the ways social issues have been included in climate policies by the European Commission.

The path towards a socially just Fit for 55 package: How have social elements of the Fit for 55 package evolved in the context of the climate, energy, and cost-of-living crises? reviews discussions that took place in the European Parliament between July 2021 and July 2022 on some of the files included in the first part of the so-called Fit for 55 package that are most likely to have substantial social impacts. 

The analysis indicates socioeconomic issues have risen in prominence in the climate policy debates, largely as a result of the changing economic and geopolitical circumstances and the worsening effects of the climate crisis. 

The qualitative results of the study illustrate the complexity of the decision-making at the EU level, the effect of geopolitical factors on the capacity of MEPs to take decisive and ambitious action, and the influence of interest groups and industrial lobbies on how reference to social issues is included in the Parliament’s agreed position. The report also shows how certain issues discussed extensively during the Parliamentary process are, in the end, left out of the Parliament’s agreed position to ensure greater unity and a stronger negotiating position in the trilogues. 

Ursula Woodburn, Head of EU relations, CISL: “The Fit for 55 package is a ground-breaking and essential package of legislation, which aims to set the EU on the path towards climate neutrality and which will transform its economy. This entails huge opportunities but also disruptions. And since the adoption of the Fit for 55 package in 2021 the landscape has dramatically changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the linked energy and cost-of-living crises, compounded by inflation. 

“It is now more important than ever to facilitate an economic transformation that is just and fair, improving the health, well-being and prosperity of all EU residents. For the policies to be effective, and for communities and people to be brought along, this means taking into account the effects that climate policies will have on households, communities, and society as a whole. This report offers some important insight into the European Parliament’s decision-making on the inclusion of social aspects, and recommendations into ways forward.” 

The research results, based on qualitative interviews and frequency counting of selected key terms relating to social considerations, indicate that the EU’s Fit for 55 package could drive a socially just transformation towards a climate-neutral economy. However, there are two key areas where further progress is urgently needed: the development of clear definitions for crucial terms and explicit reference to the most severely affected social groups

László Andor, Secretary General, FEPS, & Former Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion:  “We need to strive to do better when it comes to integrating social considerations into climate policy. Climate policy will only be up to the challenges we face in the context of protracted war and cost-of-living crisis if it enables a socially just transition. This means looking deeper into the legislative process, and understanding the web of implications the Fit for 55 package has for citizens, notably regarding jobs, transport poverty, and energy poverty, to name a few. 

This newly launched policy study opens up the black box of the European Parliament so we can all understand the progress that has been achieved, and what remains to be done to achieve a fair transformation of our societies.” 

The report focuses primarily on the European Parliament negotiations on four climate policy files that could potentially have significant positive or negative social impacts, including the CO₂ emission performance standards for new passenger cars and new light commercial vehicles, the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), and the Emissions Trading System (ETS) for buildings and transport.

The policy study highlights certain challenges and opportunities that lay ahead for policymakers concerning delivering a socially just Fit for 55 package:

  • While the inclusion of a clear definition for ‘energy poverty’ in the EED was welcome, the need to develop equally clear and unified definitions for numerous other social considerations is evident. The lack of a coherent and shared understanding of the social aspects of climate policies can jeopardise the effective implementation of the Fit for 55 package, leaving room for dissimilar interpretations of key terms and understanding of vulnerabilities.
  • In the context of the energy and cost-of-living crises, the need to reduce dependency on fossil fuel imports has made the benefits of accelerated deployment of renewable energy and enhanced efficiency more visible. However, it is important to ensure that large-scale renewable energy projects bring benefits, rather than disadvantages, to the communities where they are located.
  • There is a pressing need to ensure that the benefits from interventions such as subsidies to improve energy efficiency and increase renewable energy deployment will accrue to households that need them most.
Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership
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