Work of the ITRE Committee
My lead committee in the European Parliament is the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee. The ITRE Committee is one of the most active ones in the European Parliament, ranking near the top in terms of legislative files. As a result, the decisions taken in ITRE have a direct impact on the daily life of citizens and the European economy. Working alongside my colleagues in ITRE, I aim to introduce measures that boost innovative job creation both in Ireland and Europe.
The work of the ITRE Committee covers a broad range of sectors, including but not limited to: industrial policy and the application of new technologies; the research and innovation policy of the European Union; the European Union’s Energy policy; and the information society and information technology. In this context, I focus particularly on the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency and the digital agenda. Over the last number of years, I have been involved in the preparation of a number of legislative proposals relating to these issues.
My main priority this term: The Just Transition to a Low Carbon Economy
Over the last five years, I have worked in the European Parliament to put in place the policies that will move us towards a low-carbon economy, in line with the EU’s pledge under the Paris Agreement (40% emissions reductions by 2030). The European Union has been at the forefront of addressing Climate Change and strengthening the global response.
Economic impacts of the transition to a low-carbon economy are mostly positive, however for certain sectors, the transition can be difficult, and we see a prime example of this here in Ireland, with the job losses caused by Bord Na Móna’s transition away from Peat Activities. Areas which depend on those carbon-intensive sectors are now facing an imminent decline in their economies and this is happening across the European Union.
This is something that we cannot allow it to happen and then try to address afterwards; the frameworks, at both an EU and national level, to ensure a Just Transition must be put in place now. This will need an adequate social protection system, inclusive education, training and lifelong learning. We must invest now to reskill and upskill our population to ensure nobody is left behind.
I welcome the the European Commission has proposed a Comprehensive Just Transition Mechanism as part of the new European Green Deal. It is vitally important, particularly as we put more and more ambitious decarbonisation measures in place, that the Just Transition is kept at the centre of all policy decisions we make.
The Renewable Energy Directive and the 32% Target
Climate Change has been a priority of mine for the duration of this Parliamentary term, and my main contribution to the transition to a low carbon economy was the securing of the famous 32% renewable energy target by 2030, which came after an all-night negotiation with the European Council.
The deal gives us a legally binding, EU-wide target of 32% for Renewable Energy by 2030, and an upward review clause by 2023 at the latest, which will mean that the ambition level will be even higher.
Additionally, together with my colleagues on the Parliament’s negotiating team, I was delighted that we secured important provisions on renewable energy “self-consumption” which establishes the right for citizens, local authorities, small businesses and cooperatives to consume, store and sell their own renewable energy, without being subject to punitive taxes or excessive red tape. Smaller projects will also be exempted from certain grid obligations.
Up until the deal we secured, renewable energy communities and citizens had no recognition in Europe’s energy policy. Now they have a set of tools to empower themselves so they can prosper in the energy transition.
Both individual citizens and communities will be guaranteed support in some form for the electricity they feed onto the grid, as a result of the agreement we reached.
COP21, COP22 & COP24
Also in the area of Climate Change, in 2015 I was proud to lead discussions in the European Parliament ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement. I also went on to represent the European Parliament at COP21 in Paris, COP22 in Marrakesh and COP24 in Katowice.
In Paris, history was made as an ambitious and binding global agreement was reached: “the Paris Agreement”. This included provisions to peak global emissions, reach net-zero emissions in the second half of this century, and keep global average temperature increases to well below 2oC, while making efforts to keep increases below 1.5 oC.
At subsequent annual conferences, negotiations were concentrated on how we monitor and achieve our commitments following post-COP21. Policymakers and experts came together to discuss how emissions from deforestation and forest degradation may be reduced, how carbon stocks along coastlines may be enhanced and the power of ecosystems harnessed to adapt to Climate Change.
When it comes to climate action, the EU very much leads the way in terms of effort and ambition. The EU has committed to reducing emissions by 40% by 2030, along with a reduction of at least 80% in domestic emissions by 2050. With the European Green Deal, this ambition will increase, and I have already voted in support of increasing the 2030 target to 55% and targetting carbon neutrality by 2050.
Effort Sharing Regulation
As ITRE Committee rapporteur for the EPP Group on the 2030 climate targets, I was extensively involved in the formulation of what is known as the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), which sets out the climate targets for the period 2021 – 2030.
These targets cover all emissions except for large power plants and industrial installations, which fall under the scope of the EU ETS. The sectors most affected by the Effort Sharing Regulation therefore include agriculture, transport and buildings. From an Irish perspective, I have been working hard to ensure that provisions applying to the agricultural sector in particular are both effective in incentivising the needed emissions reductions, but also fair on the farmer. Agriculture is a part of the solution, not the problem, and this needs to be recognised, and the new CAP will need to ensure that farmers are supported adequately to allow them put the necessary measures in place to decarbonise effectively.
Emissions Trading System
The EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) is a cap and trade system whereby overall emissions in large-scale industrial plants are capped, while companies receive or buy emission allowances which they can trade with one another as needed. This system operates in 31 countries including Ireland, covering 11,000 installations and 45% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The ITRE Committee worked tirelessly on this Directive and I view the Parliament’s final position on the ETS as strong and balanced. I hope it will stimulate investment to allow for cost effective emissions reduction in the industrial sector.
The European Green Deal means that our policies to reduce emissions are set to be revised upwards and this includes the Emissions Trading System. While it is absolutely necessary to increase the ambition and reduce the carbon footprint of our large energy users, we must also be mindful that these industries operate on global markets, and if EU ambition is not matched by our competitors, we risk simply exporting our emissions and jobs to other parts of the world, with negative consequences for the global fight against Climate Change. It will be a challenging task to find the right balanace, but it is essential that we do so if we are to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
The EU Investment Plan
In recent years, I have worked closely with the European Commission, notably former Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, on the development of the new InvestEU Programme, which will run between 2021 and 2027 and builds on the success of the Juncker Plan’s European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). InvestEU aims to trigger 650 billion euro in additional investment.
I felt there was clear potential for Irish businesses to benefit from EU investment programmes and so in order to boost interest and levels of information for Irish businesses, I began to hold a series of meetings – together with the EIB and the European Commission – around Ireland to allow businesses to find out how they can benefit. As a result of my work on the issue since 2016, I was appointed co-author for the new InvestEU Programme, which is the successor programme to EFSI, and which I finalized in 2019.
InvestEU makes everything simple, and will be far easier than previous programmes for Irish SMEs to navigate. Local businesses that have a suitable project will simply apply to the EIB – they have a new office in Dublin and are encouraging applications – and a proposal will put forward for approval.
My aim now is to get as many businesses in Ireland South as possible to put together proposals and submit them for approval. There is a huge amount of support there, and Ireland needs to be better at drawing it down. I will continue to hold public seminars for businesses and ensure they make the right connections with the right people in order to give them the best chance of a successful approval.
A thriving digital economy is one of the cornerstones of growth and employment in the EU. However, barriers remain that prevent us from achieving its full potential. Europe’s digital market remains heavily fragmented. However, for the last number of years, work has been ongoing in Brussels to achieve and implement the Digital Single Market. This has the potential to bring up to €500 billion in additional economic growth in the EU, along with a great boost to job creation. This means more cross-border services, more innovative online services at competitive prices, easier access for businesses into cross-border markets. The opportunity here really is enormous and we, as policy makers, owe it to our entrepreneurs to remove burdensome obstacles to the achievement of their potential – and that means providing a single digital market with a balanced regulation.
In this area, my priorities include the establishment of high-speed networks, bolstering the digital single market, bridging the digital divide and providing better targeted support for ICT research and innovation. From an Irish perspective in particular, I have been working to ensure better access to broadband. This is the single most important issue for the success of the digital agenda; we need to aim for broadband speeds of 100+ MB like our competitors. The digitisation of rural Ireland is akin to the electrification of Ireland, the influence of the digital economy will be the driving force in balancing the rural economic environment. It is refocussing the lens on rural communities as centres of innovation and enterprise.
Furthermore, I served as Rapporteur for the ITRE Committee on the proposal for the General Data Protection Regulation, which represents the largest reform of data privacy law in the last two decades. As a result of my work in the area of data protection, cyberbullying and as Ambassador for CoderDojo, I was voted 2014 MEP of the Year for Digital Agenda.
General Data Protection Regulation
I am proud to have co-authored the new General Data Protection Regulation and negotiated it on behalf of Parliament. We reached an agreement in late 2015 and this was approved in April 2016.
As a result of this work Europeans’ privacy is now better protected and companies benefit from a single set of rules across the EU. Strong data protection rules are the basis for a functioning Digital Single Market and for the online economy to prosper. The new rules ensure that citizens can trust in how their data is used and that the EU can make the best of the opportunities of the data economy.
Personal data is the gold of the 21st century. And we leave our data basically at every step we take, especially in the digital world. When it comes to personal data today, people are naked in an aquarium. Data protection is a fundamental right in the EU. GDPR puts Europeans back in control of their data. Now we have a choice and can decide what happens and who has what sort of data. You can ask and companies have to tell you. You can also recover your data if you leave or change service.
Companies also benefit from the new rules, because they are the same everywhere and the companies will only have one authority to deal with. This makes it easier to expand a business activity to another Member State.
Roam Like At Home
Today we can see the tangible benefits of the EU following the abolition of roaming charges in the EU. Europe is now a reality for people using their mobile phones freely when travelling abroad. I am proud to have been part of the campaigning MEPs that were able to turn the demands of the people in to real concrete actions at EU level.
The abolition of roaming charges brought an immediate and significant increase in mobile calls and data usage by European citizens travelling in the EU, says a report published today by the Commission.
Europeans have made the most of their new digital rights when travelling in the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA). The use of mobile data has grown five times on average compared to the levels before June 2017. The number of phone calls made by travellers has roughly doubled compared to the previous period.
34% of travelers are now happy to go online while roaming as much as they do at home, compared to just 15% prior to June 2017. Additionally, the share of those who never use their mobile data while abroad dropped to 19% compared to 42% before the end of roaming charges.
Consumer awareness remains high: 62 % of Europeans are aware that roaming charges have ended in the EU/EEA and 69% think they, or someone they know, benefit or will benefit.
Research and Innovation
Following on from the extremely successful Horizon 2020 Programme which funded important actions between 2014 and 2020, it’s successor Programme, Horizon Europe, is set to be a vitally important frameowork for European Research and Innovation from 2021-2027. The European Union needs a stable framework for its long-term research and development, and this is what the Horizon Europe Programme will ensure. Once finalised, it will be world’s biggest research and development programme.
The programme will aim to push the European Union into global leadership in a number of important areas and will support vital breakthrough innovations through the European Innovation Council, by creating greater impact through R&I missions and by ensuring effective partnerships.
The European Parliament voted to allocate €120 billion to the programme, giving more than half to the collaborative pillar where universities, research organisations and industry work together. However, the Member States do not seem as willing to allocate as much money. As budget discussions progress, ensuring suffienct budget for Research and Innovation will be a priority for me and fellow EPP Group Members of the ITRE Committee.