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9 Jun, 2014 14:51

​Europe sticking its head in the sand over environmental issues

​Europe sticking its head in the sand over environmental issues

Many Europeans have clearly cast their vote against Brussels’ current policies in the recent elections: Message received? Not a bit of it.

On the contrary, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promoted International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde as a possible president of the European Commission.

It’s a bankers’ Europe, forget the peoples. A continent without a political identity, guided by a blind élite in the hands of the global neoliberal system dominated by North America.

The most recent image of the European wreckage is a tanker, the Aleksey Kosygin, that arrived at the Spanish port of Bilbao last week. The ship was carrying the first major shipment of tar sand oil from Canada: about 500,000 to 600,000 barrels.

The Kosygin is not just another tanker – it’s a bomb against the European Union’s environmental policy that seems miserably failing in the face of almighty commercial logic. The fairy tale of Europe that protects the environment and the health of its citizens crumbled in Bilbao, giving us a heads-up of what the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement will be if Europeans don’t stop it. The Spanish environmentalists that were protesting at the dock knew this quite well.

The European Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) labeled tar sand oil as being more carbon-intensive than normal fossil fuels. The European Commission published a scientific report, written by Professor Adam Brandt of the Department of Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford University. The report confirmed that carbon emissions from tar sands were “significantly higher than ...industry-average emissions from conventional fuels.” The same Fuel Quality Directive, approved by member states in 2009, targets a 6 percent cut in greenhouse gas emission from fuel use by 2020. However, tar sand oil has been classified by the EU as 25 percent more pollutive than other forms of crude oil. It is obvious that the use of tar sand oil and the 2020 objective are not compatible.

But now Europe appears to be dropping out of fuel regulation, and kneeling in front of the hammering Canadian lobby that has been arguing for many years that European studies on tar sand oil are biased. Guess why precisely now? “The governments are increasingly worried about their dependence on Russian energy imports.”

Today Russia justifies everything, even Europe’s self-sacrifice, but in 2011, Friends of the Earth Europe published a report entitled, “Dirty Lobby Diary,” which documented in detail the efforts by the Canadians to undermine the FQD. A second report from Friends of the Earth Europe, titled “Keeping their head in the sand” is even more alarming.

It says that: “In January 2013, a new research by the NGO Oil Change International signaled that the carbon emissions from the tar sands were even greater than previously thought. This is because 15 to 30 percent of a barrel of tar sands bitumen is converted during the refining process into a coal-like solid fuel called petroleum coke or petcoke, which is also burnt.”

Cajoling and threatening, Canada is now celebrating a big victory over weak Europe. The most effective, half-expressed threat, was to apply to the WTO, the supranational tribunal of globalized capitalism. But David Plunkett, the Canadian Ambassador to the EU, also used more traditional menaces. In a letter to the European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard in July 2012, quoting the industry association, Europia, he warned that EU refineries might become uneconomic, and that, if the FQD was unilaterally adopted by the EU, heavy crude suppliers would “shuffle” to other markets.

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

A day later, quoting the second FEE report: “Europia wrote directly to Philip Owen at DG Climate Action reiterating this threat. The FQD, he argued, ‘will create unnecessary administrative complexity for all EU fuel suppliers and Member States’ and was a real ‘threat to competitiveness of EU refining versus international competitors.”

In the open market everything that becomes a commodity must be sold, and its potentially harmful nature doesn’t matter: no one has the power to object to the thing itself. The profit is the only justification, as every financier and criminal knows.

The Spanish oil giant Repsol, which received the Kosygin shipment, has been reportedly upgrading its refineries to process tar sand oil. It’s only the beginning. Torbjorn Kjus, an oil analyst at DBN Market, told to Oil Change International that refiners “wouldn’t care what the source is” and “wouldn’t think about the carbon content at all.”

The US-based green group the Natural Resource Defense Council stated that the current European import of about 4,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day could increase to more than 700,000 barrels per day if planned pipelines in US and Canada are finally built.

After years of resistance Europe has surrendered to Canadian pressures and FQD’s restrictive mechanism has been mothballed: “The European Commission draft document seen by Reuters proposes that oil refiners would only have to report an EU-wide average of the emissions for the feedstock they use. “The proposed methodology requires suppliers to report a (European) Union average greenhouse gas emission intensity per fuel with an option to report supplier specific values,” the draft says.

In typical Brussels style, a door to a more decent solution is left open to an unlikely future: the draft proposes a review by the end of 2016 to again address the case for introducing higher values for individual fuel sources.

Brussels is not commenting, saying that that the draft is not yet an official document, but the play’s direction seems quite clear.

Probably the Canadians are sneering with a flute of champagne in their hands. Ottawa’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters after G7 talks in Brussels on Thursday: "We don't see the crisis in Ukraine as simply an opportunity to market Canadian products, but obviously we're deeply engaged in a discussion with our allies on how we can make sure that globally our energy supplies are secure and stable," What a benefactor, indeed. Europe should be grateful.

As the French philosopher Alain de Benoist puts it in a recent interview: “Europe is a huge body that is sick, paralyzed and stuck. It is unable to define its identity, as demonstrated by its docile acceptance to melt in a large area of the Atlantic where US standards relating to the environment, health and social care will be imposed in trade. This Europe has been built from the outset against common sense, from top to bottom, regardless of the principle of subsidiarity, without limits, without an association of nations to its construction. A Union promoting the most destructive principles of liberalism. Unfortunately, Europe is far from becoming a model of culture and civilization that is able to play its role in a multipolar world.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.