Government heads of the 27 EU member states have massively scaled down funds foreseen for the economic block’s 'Just Transition Fund' in a four-day summit marathon Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described as "an emotional roller-coaster."
The fund to help member states in accelerating the transition towards climate neutrality according to the Financial Times newspaper as part of a compromise reached during the summit that ended last night is slated to have only €10bn ($11.4bn).
Earlier proposals had still set its volume at a much higher €30-40bn, a sum more acceptable to Eastern European energy transition laggards such as Poland that claim they need more EU assistance due to their high dependency on coal and lignite.
The Just Transition Fund is part of EU’s planned Green Deal to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Only countries that have signed up to the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 will be eligible for funding, which – for now – would exclude Poland.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in April had insisted that the EU’s massive recovery fund should be linked to climate protection, a stipulation now weakened by the lower Just Transition Fund.
The summit on the EU’s €750bn post-Covid-19 stimulus package and its more than €1 trillion 2021-2027 budget almost failed several times amid demands by the ‘frugal four’ countries of Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark to push down the amount of the stimulus to be given as grants that won’t have to be paid back.
"We are conscious that this is a historic moment in Europe," von der Leyen is quoted as saying after almost 100 hours of tense negotiations.
"This is a roller coaster of emotions," she said, adding that the moment of success is breathtaking.
While the Just Transition Fund was scaled down, the compromise agreement after the summit stipulated that 30% of policies and programmes from both the EU budget and the stimulus package are earmarked for climate action measures to reach the economic block's 2050 net zero pledge.
In that respect, it is the world's largest climate protection programme.
"We firmly welcome that an agreement for the stimulus package was possible," said Simone Peter, president of Germany's renewable energy federation (BEE).
"But an impulse in the area of climate and energy policy is missing. This still needs to be improved."
The compromise still needs to be approved by the European Parliament, and ratified by parliaments of the individual member states. During that process, it could still be amended in some points.
Peter next to the trimmed down version of the Just Transition Fund also criticised that 30% for climate protection as a share of the overall volume are too low.
"In its current form, the package hardly reaches the goal of a forward-looking crisis management. A great opportunity to give the Europe-wide energy transition a strong push is being missed."
Swedish climate activist icon Greta Thunberg called for the signing of an open letter to EU and global leaders, demanding the climate crisis to be treated as such.
"We can have as many meetings as we want- as long as the climate crisis isn't treated as a crisis the action needed will remain out of sight," she said on Twitter.
UPDATE adds detail and comment by green groups