"The 30% [target] is still on the table. It will always be on the table, providing the conditions are met," Isaac Valero-Ladron, spokesperson for EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, told EurActiv.
He stressed that the initial 30% offer was made by the European Council and was unrelated to the 2050 roadmap that Hedegaard is expected to launch in March.
Speaking before an audience at King's College, in London, on 10 February, Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger had said:
"If we go alone to 30%, you will only have a faster process of de-industrialisation in Europe."
"I think we need industry in Europe," he went on. "We need industry in the UK, and industry means CO2 emissions."
EurActiv understands that Hedegaard feels ready to challenge Oettinger on the relationship between emissions cuts and growth, on the basis of the European Environment Agency's 2010 environmental report.
One EU diplomat described Oettinger's positioning as "old-fashioned thinking," stuck in the time of the industrial revolution.
Oettinger's words were also greeted with dismay by environmentalists.
Brook Riley, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, told EurActiv that Oettinger was not best placed to make judgements on the 30% target.
"We're concerned about his close links with heavy industry in the private sector, which doesn't help his objectiveness," Riley said, "and his statement is quite simply wrong".
"Independent studies as well as Commission studies show that by increasing to 30% the EU would be increasing its competitiveness, creating new jobs and ultimately, saving money."
Support for 30% still strong
Oettinger's words may also rile the British, French and German governments, who all support an increase on the current 20% figure.
Nine months ago, Climate Commissioner Hedegaard sparked a debate when she published research showing that the steep fall in emissions that followed the 2008 financial crisis would make it cheaper to achieve the 30% target than previously thought.
Doing so now would also make it substantially easier to meet the EU's objective of reducing emissions by 80-95% by 2050.
But, in a calibrated intervention which will please industry lobbyists, Oettinger signalled that the EU would not take a leading global role in emissions cuts.
"We are willing to go to 30 % if big global partners will follow us," he said. "But if not we won't."
Such a move would jeapordise EU competitiveness and lead to a migration of jobs in sectors such as steel, he added.
Oettinger is slated to bring forward proposals to help Europe meet its lagging energy efficiency proposals next month.
Reports suggest that these may include the introduction of legally binding energy use targets if member states do not improve their performance within the two year period set out at last month's Energy Council.
"If that is his strategy, I think it's a mistake," Riley said, "because energy savings and emissions reductions go hand in hand".
"If you had a binding target for 2020 that would help you to meet a higher emissions reductions target," he explained.