State of the Union: Spain heatwave, offshore wind plans and pharma overhaul
This week saw record-breaking temperatures in Europe, with 40 degrees Celsius recorded in Spain — the hottest temperature ever observed in April in peninsular Spain.
In some areas, it was expected to be up to 20 degrees higher than the average.
This prompted fears of wildfires in a nation already so dry that some farmers have opted not to plant crops at all.
"We are living in an alarming situation, not only because of this agricultural season, which is very complicated," Eduardo Vera Canuto, a Spanish rice farmer said.
"We are not going to be able to sow rice. We have had five seasons and this would be the sixth, with many difficulties."
Do you think this is not political? Well, think again. The Spanish government requested emergency funds from the European Commission to help its farmers.
The heat wave could lead to new disruptions in the EU’s agricultural markets, already on tenterhooks after the grain crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine.
Dealing with extreme weather will now be part of Europe’s climate policy which also includes safeguarding energy security.
North Sea countries band together
In the Belgian port city of Ostend on Monday, nine coastal countries agreed to boost wind farm capacity in the North Sea.
The idea is to boost offshore wind power generation to 120 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 and to at least 300 GW by 2050.
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) told Euronews that the area is ripe for production.
"The potential we have in the North Sea in terms of offshore wind is huge," Birol said.
"It is the best quality offshore wind in the world and the amount of potential we have is enough to power current Europe's electricity demand by six times, there is a huge potential there."
Europe’s focus on renewables like wind power is part of a larger strategy to become energy independent and to achieve the bloc’s climate goals, like phasing out fossil fuels.
But Europe’s frantic efforts to replace Russian gas last year led to the exact opposite: investment into and expansion of fossil gas imports and infrastructure – with potentially devastating consequences for the EU’s Green Deal and the climate.
This is an accusation Greenpeace makes in a report presented this week called "Who Profits from War: How Gas Corporations Capitalise on the war in Ukraine".
In an interview, Silvia Pastorelli, an EU climate and energy policy specialist at Greenpeace, criticised the bloc's response to the conflict.
"In a nutshell, the EU's response to a short-term energy crisis is a long-term fossil fuel lock-in with decade-long gas contracts," Pastorelli told Euronews.
"Our study finds that EU governments are planning to build so much liquefied natural gas (LNG) import capacity, that, if constructed, it would increase the EU's greenhouse gas emissions by up to an equivalent of 950 million tonnes of CO2 each year.
She added that any new LNG terminals, which will not immediately start operating are simply not necessary.
"It worsens the climate crisis, lines the pockets of fossil fuel companies, which we know have been making record profits and delays the necessary transition to a renewable energy system and makes it more difficult and more expensive for people.
"This energy crisis has made it painfully clear that what we think of energy security is outdated and cannot protect people from the shocks of a system that is based entirely on fossil fuels.
"Fossil gas needs to be phased out by 2035 at the latest. So, now is the time to rethink energy security."
Drugs rules overhaul
On Wednesday, Brussels unveiled its biggest reform to the EU's pharmaceutical legislation in 20 years, sparking anger from the multi-billion euro industry.
The proposal, which had previously been delayed, aims to increase medicine accessibility and affordability for EU citizens as well as fight against resistance to antibiotics.
But making the drugs more accessible and affordable means slashing the standard regulatory protection period that big pharma currently enjoys, something pharma companies lobbied intensively against.
"A short way to describe [the proposal] is the triple-A", said Schinas.
These stand for access, affordability and availability. Access to drugs, both innovative and generics, has been one of the main challenges for the Commission as shortages increase all over Europe.
"We want our citizens all over the European Union to have the same level of access to drugs. It is not a secret that big member states up to now had better chances to obtain certain drugs faster," the Vice-President added.
For Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, the current situation is "unacceptable".
"Patients in the Western and bigger member states have access to 90% of newly approved medicines. In the Eastern and smaller member states the number is as low as 10%. Citizens wait from months to two or three years for these [new] medicines".
Nathalie Moll, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, reacted to the proposals in a statement, saying:
"The approach set out in the pharmaceutical legislation penalising innovation if a medicine is not available in all member states within two years is fundamentally flawed and represents an impossible target for companies."