Also in this newsletter: Italy’s war against plant milk and Co.
Good morning. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is in Kyiv today to meet president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as Ukraine joins the bloc in celebrating Europe Day.
Today, our correspondents covering the European parliament preview a crucial vote on methane emissions in Strasbourg. And our Milan correspondent explains why Italy thinks its food sector is under attack.
Methane is one of the most pernicious greenhouse gases, but regulating its emissions has once again opened up heated debate about the practicalities of new climate laws, write Alice Hancock and Ian Johnston.
Context: Brussels has proposed rules to curb methane emissions in the energy sector. They would force fossil fuel producers to monitor and prevent leaks, such as from mines, in order to align the EU with a global pledge to cut methane pollution by 30 per cent by 2030 and fight global warming.
The European parliament will vote on the law today, but a series of last-minute amendments by the Romanian centre-right MEP Cristian-Silviu Buşoi has raised concerns that the parliament will dilute the provisions to give companies an easier ride.
In an email to fellow lawmakers seen by the Financial Times, Buşoi said that the amendments were “a result of extensive consideration of the circumstances faced by the operators and the member states”.
His proposals would allow exemptions for methane emissions into water and reduce the number of surveys to detect leaks. It would also introduce what Buşoi called “a feasible timeframe” for countries that have a lot of disused wells, which could continue to emit methane for many years after they stop being used.
According to data by the NGO Clean Air Task Force published yesterday, there were more than 880 sources of methane leakage across 15 countries in the EU “with Romania illustrating a significant problem”.
In an open letter to MEPs, representatives of nine NGOs said that Buşoi’s amendments would “severely undermine” the methane regulation and exempt a “significant number of large companies”. Methane is 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the NGOs warned.
The European People’s party, the EU’s biggest parliamentary group, has instructed its MEPs to vote in favour of at least some of the controversial amendments. That includes more relaxed surveillance of methane leaks and looser requirements for fossil fuel imports to the bloc.
This means some provisions to water down the rules could pass. Certainly, the vote will be much tighter than expected, with some last minute scrambling as the EU parliamentary whips tally up their numbers.
Chart du jour: Burnt out
Weighed down by Covid-19 and demographic change, the European health sector is faced with chronic worker shortages. The pressure is mounting as hospitals deal with a big treatment backlog after the pandemic.
Italy is intensifying its crusade against EU sustainable farming rules and lab-grown foods in an effort to promote its signature cuisine, writes Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli.
Context: Italy’s rightwing government is waging a war to protect its food sector. Rome has hit out at the EU commission for not opposing plans in Ireland to put health warnings on alcoholic beverages, including Italian wine. And premier Giorgia Meloni has proposed banning lab-grown meat.
Italy’s agriculture and food sovereignty minister, Francesco Lollobrigida, yesterday attended a conference in Milan titled “Italian food under attack” in a show of support to agricultural trade body Coldiretti.
Coldiretti has warned that the Italian food industry is under serious threat from “health terrorism and climate extremism”.
The powerful farmers’ organisation has been a vocal opponent of certain EU legislative proposals aimed at cutting carbon emissions and making farming more sustainable. It says they will ultimately harm their industry and “Italian food excellence”.
Lollobrigida tweeted after the conference: “Mammoth meatballs, lab grown food, 3D-printed fish, milk without cows. This will make large multinationals profit and destroy our civilisation.”
The minister, a senior member of the ruling Brothers of Italy party, said cultivated meat products were “slush” in an interview with Reuters.
He also pushed back against the idea that slaughter-free meat production based on lab-grown cells was more sustainable. “We reject the idea of standardising products . . . our culture is tied to the land,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Italian food sector does not seem to be suffering much: Italy’s food exports rose by 15 per cent in 2022 to €60.7bn, mostly driven by wine, pasta, fruit and vegetables.
What to watch today
German chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks at European parliament.
EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen travels to Kyiv for Europe Day.
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Sunny afternoon: Barney Jopson on why Spain does not agree on the slippery concept of “la tarde” — and what fascism has to do with it.
Internal barriers: Von der Leyen’s EU commission has not been keeping as close tabs on the single market as her predecessors’.