The Commission's latest progress report, published on 24 April, showed that member states have been making patchy progress towards their 2010 targets for the share of renewable energies in the electricity and transport sectors. It thus concluded that the EU would only reach a 19% share for electricity (instead of 21%), and 4% instead of 5.75% in the transport sector.
Germany leads the group of member states that have already reached their targets, but many countries continue to fall behind. In the electricity sector, for example, renewable shares have not grown at all, and in seven countries have even declined since 2004.
The Commission argued that cumbersome administrative procedures, grid access and lack of adequate support measures are to blame for member states' poor performance. It argued that an enhanced legislative framework is needed to overcome these well-known barriers.
The EU executive stated that with the recent Renewable Energy Directive agreed in December as part of a package of climate legislation (EurActiv 09/12/08), the Union is in a "far better position" to facilitate the development of renewable energy sources over the next 12 years.
Enforcement remains an issue
The current directive mandates the Commission to start infringement proceedings against member states that fail to fulfil their obligations. It has initiated 61 legal proceedings since 2004, most of which were against Italy. 16 remain unresolved, with the new directive set to come into force next month.
Speaking at a sustainable energy seminar in Brussels, Dörte Fouquet, director of the European Renewable Energies Federation (EREF), argued that the lack of binding interim targets or penalty mechanisms are the weakest points of the new directive.
"When you have just a binding target in 2020, a lot is on the shoulders of the Commission to push the member states to do something," she said, warning that pre-court procedures could drag on for years.
Hans van Steen, head of unit at the EU executive's transport and energy directorate, countered that the Commission did not share this assessment of the weaknesses. The major drawback, he said, is in the area of buildings and heating, not the lack of enforcement measures.
Van Steen said that at a meeting discussing the way forward for renewables in autumn 2006, Germany and Denmark had been the only member states to support binding interim targets. It was thus necessary to compromise with indicative interim targets to get the binding 20% target for 2020 contained in the new directive, he stressed.
"We still feel that the Commission has the legal means to enforce the directive, and we have the indicative trajectory fixed in the directive. We feel that we have to use that as a benchmark for member states," van Steen said.
He said the directive clearly stated that member states were obliged to "introduce measures effectively designed to ensure that the share of energy from renewable sources equals or exceeds that shown in the indicative trajectory". If they fall behind their targets and these measures are not in place, the Commission can sue them.
"Under the existing directive, we have only an indicative end-target, and we have still managed to convince the Commission's legal service that we have to take legal action against a number of member states," he said, insisting that effectively enforcing the new directive with a binding end-target should be perfectly possible.