Blog post

European political preferences for decarbonisation

On 8 July the European Parliament  finally voted to introduce a mechanism to stabilise the European emissions trading system (ETS). What can a de

Publishing date
13 July 2015
Georg Zachmann

On 8 July the European Parliament – after a year-long saga of failed committee votes and rejected reports – finally voted to introduce a mechanism to stabilise the European emissions trading system (ETS). The Market Stability Reserve (MSR) adopted by the European Parliament is a measure to temporarily adjust the supply of emission allowances in order to boost the carbon price. As I argued back in 2013, I think the mechanism itself is inappropriate for ensuring an investible carbon price. The main value of the tool is thus not the mechanism itself, but the political signal of support from the European Parliament and the European Council for the ETS.

It is therefore interesting to look into the voting results – the most visible political signal. The main observation is that the carbon price did not markedly move after the European Parliament strongly voted in favour of the MSR (495 MEPs voted in favour, 158 against, with 49 abstentions). This signal was evidently anticipated, as there was almost no reaction on the day. Indeed, it was not strong enough: emission allowances are still trading at significantly lower prices than initially envisaged.  This weakness of the political signal might be partially explained by the complicated parliamentary history of the MSR.

Emission allowance price:


The second interesting observation is that there is a strong positive correlation between countries’ per-GDP emissions and votes against the MSR. For example, most MEPs from Poland or Bulgaria (which are among the least carbon-efficient economies) voted against the MSR.

National votes against per-GDP emissions:


A third observation is that some fairly carbon-efficient member states such as France, Italy and the United Kingdom produced about twice as many ‘no’ votes than one would expect from their carbon-intensity. In fact, a large share of the ‘no’ votes came from MEPs representing parties such as the Front National in France (21 of 25 noes), UKIP in the UK (all 19 noes) and Movimento 5 Stelle in Italy (15 of the 20 noes). This might be explained by these parties general opposition to any European-level instruments.

Percentage of ‘no’ votes by party group:


In conclusion, the MSR vote did indeed deliver a political signal in favour of emissions trading in Europe. However, despite the strong positive result, the fine details are less encouraging.

Appendix - Results by country:


Appendix - European Parliament Political Groups:

  • S&D: Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament
  • GUE/NGL: Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left
  • EPP: Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
  • ALDE: Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
  • Greens/EFA: Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
  • ECR: European Conservatives and Reformists Group
  • EFD: Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group
  • ENF: Europe of Nations and Freedom
  • NI: Non-attached Members

Excellent research assistance by Augustin Lagarde is gratefully acknowledged.

About the authors

  • Georg Zachmann

    Georg Zachmann is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, where he has worked since 2009 on energy and climate policy. His work focuses on regional and distributional impacts of decarbonisation, the analysis and design of carbon, gas and electricity markets, and EU energy and climate policies. Previously, he worked at the German Ministry of Finance, the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, the energy think tank LARSEN in Paris, and the policy consultancy Berlin Economics.

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