As in the United States, the EU has enjoyed a booming biofuels market in recent years for two reasons: substantial government subsidies and an EU goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which includes a plan to increase biofuels used in transportation.
But with every great plan comes a backlash. As food prices rise and experts speculate the environmental value of alternative fuels like corn ethanol, sugar ethanol and soybean based biofuel, EU officials are deciding whether their initial plan to increase transportation biofuels is too destructive and ambitious; farmers are planting rapeseed where gains once grew, a trend that some experts and officials worry will damage farm land and cause food prices to rise. And though countries like Germany, France and Italy have expanded biofuels production – it's gone up from 946,690 tons in 2000 to 5.9 million tons in 2006 – the EU has still imported fuel from abroad.
At the same time, EU officials have proposed banning imports of biofuels made from crops grown on environmentally sensitive land, like grasslands and rainforest. To bolster their case, the Commission is seeking to establish its own criteria for what it means to make a "green" fuel. For example, the Commission may approve a plan that requires biofuels grown in the EU or imported from abroad to have a carbon dioxide savings of at least 35 percent compared to fossil fuels, but member states may push for more stringent requirements.
My project will explore how these changes will impact the EU's trade relations with the United States and other countries. Are these new rules really a way to keep profits from biofuel production local? Or can the EU's model be used as a set of "sticks and carrots" to improve the environmental value of alternative energy?
Between 2005 and 2009 the Institute for Human Sciences at Boston University also awards Milena Jesenská Fellowships to US journalists for research stays of up to three months at the IWM in Vienna.