A historic break­through: the EU wants out of climate-dest­roying energy treaty

15 פברואר 2023

The end of the controversial and severely outdated Energy Charter Treaty is near. After having been put under pressure from NGOs and politicians, including the Dutch Party for the Animals, the European Commission admitted last week that an exit from this international energy treaty “appears inevitable”. The treaty protects energy companies and allows large-scale polluters to file billion-euro claims against governments that want to take climate action. “If you take the climate crisis seriously, there is only one option – and that is to quit this treaty,” said MP Lammert van Raan of the Party for the Animals. “We have achieved a major victory for our climate.”

MEP Anja Hazekamp of the Party for the Animals argued in the European Parliament for the abolition of the fossil energy treaty.

The controversial treaty (Energy Charter Treaty, ECT) dates back to the 1990s and has been signed by more than 50 countries worldwide, including European Union member states. It is designed to protect investments by energy multinationals from the consequences of sudden changes in a country’s economic policy. However, tackling the climate crisis has proven increasingly difficult in recent years. Under this treaty, large-scale polluters are able to claim billions from member states that implement policies that are disadvantageous to them. The result: governments tend to pay more heed to the interests of companies such as these than to the Paris Climate Agreement.

Scientists, NGOs (such as ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth) and a growing number of politicians are therefore warning that the treaty grants the fossil industry an unacceptable amount of power and is obstructing the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy – the switch that is so desperately needed to tackle the climate and energy crises, and for which there is no time to lose. The Dutch government, for example, has already been sued twice over its plans to phase out coal, and a British oil and gas company successfully filed a multi-million-pound claim with Italy – a claim almost nine times the amount invested by the company, as it must also compensate for “future lost profits”.

Exit ECT – Enter climate action!

Protest in Brussels by Friends of the Earth Europe in 2021.

The Dutch Party for the Animals has therefore been campaigning for a withdrawal from the treaty for years. The party had already submitted written questions about this as far back as in 2019, and called on the Dutch government last year to speak out against the treaty and plead with the European Commission for a joint withdrawal of all EU member states. The party’s efforts were successful: the proposal received majority support in the Dutch Parliament, and the Dutch Minister for Climate and Energy soon announced that the Netherlands, “preferably together with the rest of the EU”, will quit the ECT.

The Party for the Animals – and a growing number of other parties – have been pleading in the European Parliament for all EU member states to quit the treaty. Last spring, the Spanish Minister for Energy and the Environment called for a joint European exit. France, Germany and Poland followed Spain’s example six months later. After failed attempts to reform the outdated treaty, a majority of the European Parliament voted in favour of withdrawing from the ECT treaty last November.

That even the European Commission now admits that not withdrawing from the treaty is becoming untenable is a historic breakthrough. High time, according to Esther Ouwehand, Political Leader of the Party for the Animals. As she told the Dutch government in 2019 during a debate on the eve of the European summit (where all European heads of government meet): “European government leaders are still docile and subservient to big business today. They allow themselves to be blackmailed by a handful of fossil energy companies, the dinosaurs of the corporate world. There can only be one answer to that: get rid of that treaty!”

Credits foto ECT-protest in Brussel: Friends of the Earth / Flickr.