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Weathering Growing Contestation? The European Parliament and EU Foreign Climate Policy

Qualitative
Climate Change
European Parliament
Katja Biedenkopf
University of Leuven
Franziska Petri
University of Leuven
Katja Biedenkopf
University of Leuven

Abstract

Traditionally, the European Parliament (EP) has been more ambitious than other EU institutions in climate policy, profiling itself as a leader within the policy-making process. Its legislative amendments and political discourse often pushed the Council and Commission to increase their ambition. In this way, it has been a core driver of European integration on climate and energy policy. At the same time, not only the internal constitution of the European chamber has changed, but also the external context within which the EP shapes its foreign climate policies: The changed global economic landscape, the shifts in emission responsibilities and the new rise of geopolitics, most notably through the elections of climate sceptics such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro as Presidents drastically changed international climate politics towards open contestation by those major climate powers. Those developments beg the question of how the EP has reacted to growing contestation and whether it has maintained, attenuated or even abandoned its role as climate champion. This paper analyses the extent to which the EP has reacted to external climate change contestation in shaping its own EU foreign climate policy ambitious. To this end, we qualitatively analysed all EP plenary debates on EU foreign climate policy between 2009 and 2019, spanning two five-year legislative periods and comprising a total of 22 plenary debates and 1427 individual speeches by MEPs. Chosing an explicit discourse analysis approach allows us to uncover the various discursive representations and various reactions to external contestation trends of diverse Parliamentarians’ foreign climate policy ambitions. We find that political groups differ significantly not just in their foreign climate policy ambitious and specific climate policy narratives but also in the extent to which they respond to external challenges. Overall, we find that the EP as a whole has remained surprisingly stable, weathering growing contestation.