The Danish presidency received its much-awaited mandate to start negotiations with the European Parliament on the draft energy efficiency directive on 3 April, after a “tough” discussion between member state representatives.
However, the Danes were left with a mandate described as “weak” and “vague” by activists after yesterday’s meeting.
Member states have watered down the main provisions of the bill, which had been hailed as the most important energy efficiency law to date and was to serve as the EU's main tool in reaching its aspirational 20% energy savings target for 2020.
“We are one third of that objective behind,” said Monica Frassoni, president of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE), an organisation representing businesses and environmentalists supporting the directive.
“Member states have drastically weakened the text: there is simply no way their version of the Directive would ensure delivery of the 20% target. It is so 'flexible' it has become almost meaningless,” added Erica Hope, of the Climate Action Network Europe, an environmentalist NGO.
Belgium and Ireland were amongst the countries that were reluctant to give the Danish presidency the mandate to lead negotiations with the Parliament, whilst Germany, France, Austria and Luxembourg were strong on limiting the scope of some key provisions of the bill.
The mandate member states have produced is an exploratory one, which means the member states remain open to further discussion and that the Danish presidency will report on its informal, technical meetings with the Parliament to the member states representatives.
“The presidency is hyper defensive and they have accepted a mandate that reduced one third of their ambitions,” Frassoni said. “We have to seriously hope the Parliament can put something resembling ambition and substance back into the mix,” Hope added.
Weak mandate, ambitions at risk
The EU Council of Ministers, which represents the 27 EU member states, is “overcautious” on the issue, an attitude justified by the fact that they want to have a strong negotiating position with the Parliament, Frassoni added. “But they are disagreeing with the Parliament on almost everything, as if they wanted to kill it.”
The European Parliament adopted its negotiation stance on the directive with a vote on 28 February, which squeezed the 2,200 proposed changes to the bill into 18 compromise amendments. The MEPs agreed to give countries the possibility to choose binding targets, in case the proposed measures are too rigid to adapt at the national level.
“From now until June the real fight will start between the Parliament and member states,” said Claude Turmes, a Green MEP from Luxembourg in charge of negotiating the bill for Parliament.
In the mandate, member states asked for targets to be only indicative and even if they kept most measures, they have “capped” them, Frassoni said. “This creates limitations in scope and loopholes,” she claimed.
For example, the energy-efficient renovation rate for public buildings was kept at 3% of the total usable floor area over 250m2. However, member states asked for this requirement to apply only to buildings occupied and owned by public bodies, which considerably reduces the number of buildings falling under this provision.
National governments also asked for early actions by companies to be counted towards a scheme obliging energy retailers to save 1.5% among their clients each year. In addition, industries that are already covered by the EU's emissions trading scheme will be able to reduce their commitments under the scheme by 40%, EurActiv understands.
Speed versus ambition
The Danish presidency seems to be split about its own level of ambition on the dossier, environmentalists say.
Since it took the rotating EU Presidency in January, Denmark has been aiming to reach an agreement on the directive by 1 July, when its chairman role comes to an end.
But making significant progress on an ambitious directive could take time and thus reduce the chances of the Danish presidency to classify this as a success.
“My fear is that they accept everything in order to have the directive anyway,” Frassoni said.
She suggested putting together a “coalition of countries which are friendly” towards the bill. Italy for example, openly supports the directive, but does not want to argue with other member states over it, as it doesn’t see the law as a top priority.
“I wish the Danish presidency kept to the main objective. Will they fill the energy savings gap or not?” Frassoni asked.