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.
Over the last number of 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 law to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. 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.
Frameworks at both an EU and national level must ensure a Just Transition. 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.
The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) introduces new standards for energy performance to decarbonise the building sector, with changes to definitions of energy performance standards, revisions to national building renovation plans and a new requirement for life-cycle emission calculations for new builds. This will require overarching framework for building renovation that considers cost-effectiveness, local circumstances and the diversity of our buildings.
Buildings are at the nexus of the Fit for 55 package, therefore the EPBD must ensure full coherence with other files – most notably in the EED (heating and cooling plans), RED III and Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), but also the Data Act (for transfer of energy data) and the Construction Products Regulation (embodied carbon calculations).
Renovations must be accompanied by a strong supporting framework that provides building owners with financial, administrative and technical assistance as well as information tools like Renovation Passports and One-Stop-Shops.
The European Parliament voted its report it’s Plenary session on March 14, 2023. The EPBD is now in the process of inter-institutional negotiations.
The InvestEU Programme will bring together under one roof the multitude of EU financial instruments currently available to support investment in the EU, making EU funding for investment projects in Europe simpler, more efficient and more flexible.
Triggering more than €372 billion in additional investment over the period 2021-27, the InvestEU Programme aims to give an additional boost to sustainable investment, innovation and job creation in Europe.
Through the use of an innovative EU Guarantee fund, InvestEU will mobilise public and private investment across the EU, address market failures and investment gaps, and contribute to EU policy goals. It brings huge potential to boost investments across the EU, in a similar way to the hugely successful European Fund for Strategic Investments – EFSI.
In December 2021, the Commission adopted the Communication “Sustainable Carbon Cycles,” presenting an action plan aimed at developing sustainable solutions to enhance carbon removal. The Communication identifies key challenges and proposes short- to medium-term actions focusing on carbon farming and industrial sustainable carbon.
During this report, as Rapporteur, my priorities encompassed advocating for European leadership and a competitive CCUS market with financial incentives supporting commercial deployment. Additionally, I emphasized the need for Innovation Fund assistance to industrial carbon removals, the development of CO₂ transport and storage networks, and a comprehensive framework for carbon removal, including CCUS, with clear targets.
Furthermore, the report called for the Commission’s proposal on the Certification of Carbon Removals to distinctly differentiate between short-cycle and long-term removal.
Lastly, the report calls for a comprehensive Strategy for carbon capture and storage by the end of 2023, inclusive of a detailed plan and targets, ensuring timely deployment for Europe’s decarbonization.
The Carbon Removal Certification Framework proposal is intended to an effective certification framework for the certification of carbon removal and sequestration from the atmosphere. This is intended to incentivise business models in this area and create greater transparency and quality.
In order to create an incentive for operators in agriculture, forestry and industry to capture and store carbon, the planned certificates are to serve as proof of high-quality carbon removal and can be sold. This is intended to create a new income opportunity for various industries.
Smaller markets for voluntary carbon removal certificates already exist, for example in afforestation. However, there is no EU-wide established, controlled and quality-assured system to monitor and verify whether the certificates actually reflect the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere.
Lastly, the main point of the ITRE report was to categorise removals as either temporary or permanent. Definitions of carbon farming and carbon in products are maintained and linked to temporary removals for clarity.
Permanent storage is stated to be in the form of geological storage in line with the CCS Directive.
I travelled to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt to attend the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, as part of a delegation representing the European Parliament.
Agricultural initiatives emerged one of the top priorities of the conference as representatives focused on how to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. Scaling up climate finance proved to be at the heart of discussion for solutions.
A particular highlight was the successful launch of the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) Initiative. Small-scale farmers from developing countries produce roughly one third of the world’s agrifood products, yet they receive under 2% of climate financing. This is deeply unfair given that they are the most effected by climate change.
Climate Change has been and continues to be a priority of mine. 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.
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 targeting carbon neutrality by 2050.
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.
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 worked 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
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 balance, but it is essential that we do so if we are to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
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.
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.
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.
Horizon Europe, is the world’s biggest research and development program. Horizon Europe will run from 2021-2027, providing a stable framework for long-term research and development in the EU.
Ensuring sufficient budget for Research and Innovation was a priority for me and my fellow EPP Group Members of the ITRE Committee. The programme aims 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.