Parliament voted for a 40% cut in CO2 emissions, a 30% share of the energy market for renewables and a 40% improvement in energy efficiency, all by 2030.
The resolution, approved by 341 votes to 263, criticised the Commission’s proposed energy and climate framework, which is meant to extend the current 2020 package.
The vote itself is not legally-binding but agreement will need to be reached between the Commission, Parliament and member states before a final proposal can be signed off on, later this year.
As such, Parliament signalled its intent to the EU executive, which unveiled a much less ambitious plan earlier this year.
While most MEPs backed the stronger targets, many Conservative and centre-right MEPs were worried about the possible consequences on business and EU country's ability to decide their own energy mix.
Françoise Grossetête, a French MEP from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), called the figures "madness", saying "member states should have the necessary freedom and flexibility to decide their energy mix.”
Non-binding but politically crucial
Other MEPs called the EU executive's proposal “short-sighted” and “unambitious”. This was so, “specifically as regards the lack of national targets for renewable energy and of any meaningful new action to incentivise energy efficiency”, Parliament said in a statement.
The Commission's 2030 plan also called for a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emission (GHG), but just a 27% non-binding share for renewables in the energy mix, and no target at all on energy efficiency.
Brook Riley, an environmental activist at Friends of the Earth, said that Parliament's proposed targets would increase the continent's emission-cutting potential.
“The positive outcome of today’s vote is that MEPs’ support for energy efficiency and renewables means they are effectively calling for a 45-50% emissions target," Riley told EurActiv. "This is less than the 60% cuts Friends of the Earth’s analysis shows is needed for the EU to be in line with its 2°C climate commitments. But the Parliament’s vote is a welcome counter signal to the Commission’s dangerously weak proposals of last month. We hope EU governments are listening.”
Although the parliamentary text is a non-binding resolution, it nonetheless sends a “strong political message” and a “timely signal” that the parliament “regrets the Commission’s proposal”, MEP Bas Eickhout (Greens) said. “One of the two institutions that have to legislate on this matter is unhappy,” he added.
Energy ministers will meet in Brussels in March to discuss the 2030 targets, but MEPs are worried that the Commission may tryto “bypass” Parliament by choosing a different legislative basis when tabling its final proposal, in October at the earliest.
An amendment adopted yesterday expressed the institution’s “deep concern about the proposals for a new governance structure for the 2030 framework, and (…) insists that the Commission should base any legal proposal on full co-decision between Parliament and the Council.”
The text refers to a formulation in the Commission’s January communication which flags a “new governance framework based on national plans for competitive, secure and sustainable energy prepared by the Member States .”
MEP fear that the Commission could try to leave the final decision to member states only, by choosing a legal basis in the treaty that would sideline Parliament. The original amendment called on the Commission to base its proposal on Article 194 of the Lisbon Treaty but this provision was later erased.
Not all stakeholders share their concern. "Rather than monitoring reports and reviews like it is now, it would be more based on a bilateral cooperation,” said one Parliamentary source who added that the new governance formula referred to the Commission’s monitoring methods.
Challenges for the next legislature
Regardless of yesterday's vote, a surge in far-right parties in the next EU parliament, as many opinion polls have predicted, could water down the EU’s environmental ambitions.
The group of the European Reformists and Conservatives (ECR) whose members helped draft the report, withdrew their signatures and called on MEPs not to adopt objectives which they termed a “mistake” that might weaken the EU’s position in global talks before the 2015 Paris conference.
Eurosceptics are traditionally opposed to ambitious environmental regulations, but the centre-right EU group, the European People’s Party (EPP) might hold the key, since it is expected to win a majority of seats in the next legislature.
“There will be a push towards the EPP," Eickhout warned. "The EPP will need to decide whether they team up with the progressives or the extremists. Reasonable policy will prevail if the EPP leans towards the more progressive side of the Parliament.”