In the past five years, particularly in the last two, all the European institutions (the European Commission, European Parliament, European Council, and Committee of the Regions) have debated the risks associated with the extraction of unconventional fossil fuels (including shale gas) involving the use of the technique of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking”.
Hundreds of licences had been granted to oil and gas companies across large swathes of the European continent, and serious debate was urgently required to assess the various impacts of the fracking technique on the environment, climate and public health.
The environmental chapter of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union is of crucial importance in the European debate on the impacts of fracking and other unconventional fossil fuels on climate, environment and public health:
- “European Union policy on the environment shall contribute to pursuit […] preserving, protecting and improving the quality of the environment, protecting human health.”
- “European Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection, taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”
In its legislation, the European Union must therefore address all environmental issues. This means taking a strong stance whenever an industrial process in Europe threatens the environment and human health.
The Treaty recognises “a Member State’s right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources [and] its choice between different energy sources”. Nevertheless, the Treaty makes it equally clear that national decisions, for example to exploit shale gas and other other unconventional fossil fuels, must be taken “without prejudice” to the European Union’s duty to protect the environment.
The European Parliament has voted on two reports on the issue (see here and here); the Committee of the Regions has voted on one; the European Commission published five studies and in 2013 ran an impact assessment to evaluate whether it was necessary to strengthen the current European regulatory framework and adapt it to the specific realities of unconventional fossil fuel extraction. But a vote in the European Parliament in 2012 on a resolution to place a moratorium on the use of fracking was rejected despite having the support of almost 40% of MEPs.
There were calls, however, from various sides, for European environmental legislation to be strengthened: the European Parliament made strong recommendations, studies published by the European Commission gave clear instructions, and a public consultation on shale gas in 2013 made clear demands. Yet early in 2014, the EU institutions decided not to take any firm action to address the risks of this highly controversial industrial process. Only non-binding recommendations were issued to EU Member States.
However, this is not the end of the story. The European Commission will review the implementation of these recommendations by Member States in September 2015. And issues linked to unconventional fossil fuels will be on the table during the next mandate of the European Parliament. Moreover, MEPs will vote on the various free trade agreements (notably with the United States and Canada) currently being negotiated by the European Commission.
It is of grave concern that current negotiations include clauses that could allow oil and gas companies to challenge the EU’s environmental legislation. They could undo all our achievements in the anti-fracking campaign at national and regional level (bans on fracking in France and Bulgaria, regional bans in Spain, Netherlands, Germany and Austria, moratoria in Germany and the Czech Republic, temporary stop in Ireland and stronger legislation in Austria and Lithuania).
However, the bilateral free trade agreements, which have already been signed by nine former communist Eastern European countries with the United States and Canada, contain the same ISDS clauses that should be forbidden.
We have the power to influence future decisions. During the upcoming European elections, we have an opportunity to ensure that our voices are represented in the newly-elected European Parliament.
- The European Parliament needs MEPs who will fight for the public interest independently of any corporate interests.
- The European Parliament needs MEPs who will stand up for the public and for democracy against excessive influence of lobbies in support of banks and big business.
- The European Parliament needs MEPs who will support a moratorium on fracking and who will oppose attempts by oil and gas companies to jeopardize or question our environmental legislation by including clauses in future free trade agreements that will give them excessive rights.
This is why, in the lead-up to the European elections, we are launching a campaign calling on candidates to take a clear and public stance against fracking, the extraction of other unconventional fossil fuels, as well as against the free trade agreements currently under negotiation.
Campaign groups opposed to fracking, shale gas etc in each European country will ask their candidates to ratify and sign a declaration in support of a frack-free Europe. This declaration can be used by candidates in meetings, forums and public debates during their European election campaign. It will be a clear statement of their commitment to a Europe free of fracking and other unconventional fossil fuels.
Participants will receive a “frack-free Europe” logo and a “frack-free” badge.