Europe has embarked on an ambitious plan to cut its energy consumption by 20% by 2020 in a bid to reduce its dependency on imported oil and gas and slash its energy bill by an estimated 100 billion euro every year. If it delivers, the plan would also prevent 780 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted in the atmosphere, or twice the amount the EU agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol.


The EU has already adopted a series of measures to increase energy savings:

  • 2002: directive on the energy performance of buildings;
  • 2004: directive promoting the combined generation of heat and electricity;
  • 2005Eco-design directive to increase energy savings from domestic appliances (fridges, hairdryers, etc.);
  • 2006: directive on energy end-use efficiency and energy services applies to supply and distribution of electricity, gas, heating and fuels to households, transport and industrial consumers;
  • other EU measures include: energy-efficiency requirements for boilers and refrigerators; labelling requirements for ovens, refrigerators, air-conditioners; Labelling for office equipment (Energy Star); Directive on taxation of energy products and electricity.

However, rising oil, gas and electricity prices gave EU governments and the Commission a new sense of urgency to do more on energy savings.

The Commission opened a wide-ranging debate in June 2005 with a Green Paper on Energy Efficiency. The paper placed energy savings at the centre of the EU's ambitions to boost competitiveness and jobs - the Lisbon strategy -, saying it could:

  • save at least 20% of its present energy consumption by 2020, or the equivalent of €60 billion a year;
  • contribute to reducing Europe's dependence on oil and gas imports as prices of fossil fuels continued to surge;
  • be the quickest and most cost-effective manner to reduce greenhouse gases emissions and help the EU meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

According to the Commission, half of the savings mentioned in the paper could be met by simply improving the enforcement of existing legislation. The remaining 10% would need to come from innovative solutions, it said.

EU member states endorsed the Commission's proposals at their March 2006 summit and urged the Commission to follow-up with an action plan that is at the same time ambitious and realistic.


After several delays due to concerns within the Commission over implementation and timing, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs finally presented his action plan in October 2006.

The plan's stated objective is to provide EU citizens with "the most energy-efficient buildings, appliances, processes, cars and energy systems" in the world. It identfies 75 specific actions in ten priority areas to be implemented over a six-year period:

  • New energy performance standards for product groups such as boilers, copiers, TVs and lighting (from 2007); 
  • new energy standards for buildings and promoting low-energy buildings ("passive houses") (2008-9);
  • making power generation and distribution more efficient (2007-8);
  • legislation to limit CO2 emissions from cars to 120g/km by 2012 (2007) and strenghtened fuel-efficiency labelling;
  • facilitate bank financing for investments in energy efficiency by SMEs and energy service companies (2007-8);
  • boosting efficiency in new member states;
  • coherent use of taxation with the preparation of a Green Paper on indirect taxation in 2007;
  • awareness and education campaigns;
  • improving energy efficiency in urban areas through a "Covenant of Mayors" (to be created in 2007) which will exchange best practices, and;
  • international agreements to foster energy efficiency worldwide.

The action plan singles out the transport sector as the area with the most potential, as it is almost 100% dependent on oil and accounts for nearly 20% of total primary energy consumption in Europe.

On road transport, the Commission urged member states to agree on a harmonised tax regime for vehicles based on CO2 emissions. A proposal to introduce an EU-wide car tax based on CO2 emissions won backing from the European Parliament but unanimity voting in Council means the proposal is so far being blocked (EurActiv 5/09/06).

Suggestions to improve efficiency of urban transport will be put forward in a new Green Paper due in 2007. Possible measures there include making broader use of congestions charges, new approaches to encourage the use of public transport and car-sharing.

In a separate move, a proposal to include aviation in the EU CO2 trading scheme is expected to contribute to reducing pollution as well as fuel consumption from airplanes (see EurActiv LinksDossier).


EU leaders threw their weight behind the Commission's action plan at their annual Spring Summit on 9 March 2007, stressing "the need…to achieve the objective of saving 20% of the EU's energy consumption compared to projections for 2020". They also urged the Commission to "rapidly submit proposals" on: 

  • Energy savings from office and street lighting "to be adopted by 2008", and;
  • "incandescent lamps and other forms of lighting in private households by 2009". 

In their conclusions adopted earlier in November 2006, EU energy ministers generelly supported the Commission's action plan. However, the Council insisted that any new proposal from the Commission should be subject to a comprehensive impact assessment that considers "in a balanced way the social, environmental and economic" consequences of legislation. The Council highlighted five priority actions for the Commission and member states:

  • Using an integrated approach to cut fuel consumption in cars, in cooperation with the automobile and fuel industries;
  • strengthening measures to cut consumption of household appliances, including stand-by loss (eco-design directive);
  • strengthen labelling for household products (Directive 92/75/EEC);
  • use R&D programmes at European and national levels;
  • continue work on implementation of the buildings directive.

Makers of household electric appliances including fridges, vacuum cleaners and cooking and washing devices, urged the EU to adopt legislation to tackle what they claim is the poor enforcement of energy labelling and product rules at national level. Magnus Yngen of Electrolux, the President of the European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers (CECED), said in a statement on 21 March 2007: "Today we have a very worrisome situation where politicians set rules, expect companies to abide by them and then fail to invest the resources needed to stop the lawbreakers".

"Too many governments are not stopping careless or unscrupulous operators from marketing products that claim better energy efficiency than they actually deliver," said Yngen. "Governments must guarantee fair competition by enforcing the law and ensuring that product declarations are genuine or our investment in high performing products is compromised. The next round of improvements needs to be driven by legislation that applies to all and is enforced on all."

Environmental NGOs reacted with dismay at the Council's "empty words" on energy savings. Friends of the Earth said the ministers had ducked out concrete commitments to cut energy waste by refusing to make the 2020 target legally binding. "The plan falls short in several sectors, especially in the transport sectot. Friends of the Earth Europe continues to insist that the fuel efficiency of cars must improve and that mandatory targets are the only realistic way to achieve this."

The Commission proposals received cross-party support in the European Parliament. In a joint statement, individual MEPs from five different political groups (EPP-ED, Socialist, ALDE, Greens/EFA, GUE/NGL) said a Europe-wide framework needs to be built to reap the economic and environmental benefits of energy savings. Together, they submitted a joint paper for an energy intelligent Europe for 2020.

INFORSE-Europe - a coalition of 64 NGOs promoting clean energy in the EU and former soviet countries - welcomed the Commission's energy green paper but said more should be done. It argues that the 20% energy efficiency target for 2020 should in fact be set as a minimum target and called for an intermediary target of 14% to be established for 2015. It called for harmonised energy taxation to be introduced by a vanguard group of EU countries using the Amsterdam Treaty's so-called "enhanced cooperation" procedure and for fast-track procedures to be used for product standards and labelling.

Eurima - the European insulation manufacturers association - stated that with oil prices and CO2 emissions still rising, focusing more attention on energy efficiency had become a necessity for Europe. More specifically, Eurima welcomed the green paper's proposal to lower the incentives threshold for renovation of buildings to 1,000 square meters. Eurima's Director General Horst Biedermann said this was essential if Europe is to capture the huge savings potential from buildings.


  • 23 Nov. 2006: EU energy ministers back Energy Efficiency Action Plan (see conclusions);
  • 10 Jan. 2007: Commission "energy and climate change package" underlines energy efficiency as a priority (EurActiv 11/01/07);
  • 7 Feb. 2007: Commission proposes strategy to cut CO2 emissions from cars (EurActiv 8/02/07);
  • 9 March 2007: EU summit asks Commission to propose new measures on street lighting and light bulbs (EurActiv 12/03/07);
  • 30 June 2007: EU member states begin to submit national energy efficiency action plans to the Commission as part of the directive on energy end-use efficiency and energy services, and Commission provides website to monitor submission of action plans;
  • 10 July 2007: Parliament adopts a new ENERGY STAR regulation, with stricter energy efficiency requirements in public procurement of office equipment; 
  • 13 Nov. 2008: Commission proposes efficiency-saving measures as part of the Second Strategic Energy Review (EurActiv 14/11/08):
    • Recast of Energy Performance of Buildings Directive;
    • Revision of Energy Labelling of Domestic Appliances Directive;
    • New directive for tyre labelling scheme.
  • Oct. 2009: EU agrees on tyre efficiency labels (EurActiv 02/10/09).
  • 17 Nov. 2009: EU reaches compromise on Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EurActiv 18/11/09) and Energy Label (EurActiv 19/11/09).
  • Early 2011: Commission to present new Energy Efficiency Action Plan.