New style visible in EP environment committee

Centre-right's victory makes itself felt at MEPs first meeting after European elections

Members of the European Parliament's environment committee met today for the first time since the summer break, with some immediate indications that the centre-right's election victory in June might soften the influential body's political stance on some issues.

In a debate on climate change, newly elected UK Conservative MEPs were particularly vocal in challenging what had become the almost orthodox views of longer-standing committee members on the appropriate policies for tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

Membership of European Parliament committees reflects the parliament's broader make-up. Accordingly, nearly 37% of the new 60-member environment committee are European People's Party (EPP) MEPs against 28% Socialists. This compares with 32% for the Socialists and 26% for the EPP in the old, 50-member body, though party shifts during the session brought the EPP's numbers almost level by the time of the election. Liberals are about level with 8%, while the Green membership is up from 6% to 8%.

The new chairman, Caroline Jackson, herself a British Conservative, presided over a debate on a draft parliamentary resolution on climate change in the run-up to the fifth conference of parties to the UN climate change convention in November. Though many MEPs supported the draft's sceptical stance on the Kyoto protocol "flexible mechanisms" and its call for extra taxes on energy and transport, these ideas were attacked by some on the right wing.

UK Conservative Roger Helmer said his fellow MEPs were wrong to consider emissions trading - one of the flexible mechanisms - as a potential "loophole". He defended the USA's argument that there should be no ceiling its use, saying: "If we are going to have a certain amount of pollution, let's have it in the most efficient place. The most efficient place is where the market puts it."

Mr Helmer also questioned whether increasing energy tax would suppress transport demand, asking which of his colleagues would be prepared to use their cars less or would decline to fly home for the weekend. Highlighting fears about energy taxes expressed by a cement producer in his constituency, he asked whether people should stop using cement in construction in order to reduce emissions.

His views were endorsed by fellow Conservatives, and even the pro-energy tax Swedish Liberal Karl Erik Olsson said he agreed with some of Mr Helmer's opinions. New UK Liberal Democrat member, Chris Davies, told the committee that it should avoid a dogmatic political debate on the issues, and instead try to agree on which policies would reduce emissions. "If [the flexible mechanisms] work, this committee should support them," he said.

Follow Up:
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