The powerful employers’ group BusinessEurope has called on European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to radically shift the EU's energy policy away from climate change mitigation towards cost-competitiveness and security of supply.
Speaking after a regular meeting with the ‘Social partners’ chaired by Barroso yesterday (2 May), BusinessEurope Director General Markus J. Beyrer argued that the EU should re-industrialise and that for this purpose a change of energy policy was needed.
BusinessEurope is the the organisation representing 41 industrial and employers’ federations in 35 European countries, which is seen by its critics as the most powerful lobbyist with many friends in the European Commission’s leadership.
Beyrer argued for the need to re-industrialise Europe. “The crisis has shown that Europe cannot be successful with an industry quota way below 20%. We think [20%] is the right target,” he said.
In order to make the continent competitive, energy policy should be “totally re-shaped,” he continued.
Beyrer said that the EU’s Green Paper for 2030 climate targets (see background) was “going into the right direction”, adding: “But it has been too much driven by climate in the past and will have to re-shape it and re-balance it to cost-competitiveness and security of supplies”.
BusinessEurope’s comments on climate change should not be seen as a surprise, especially in the light of the organisation’s recent statement following the European Parliament vote two weeks ago, which rejected EU plans to ‘backload’ – or withhold – 900 million carbon allowances from auction to boost their price.
BusinessEurope called the EU proposal “unhelpful” and labelled it as “political interference”.
The rejection of the ‘backloading’ could be seen as a collective defeat of the Commission. However, individual Commission members, including Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, have voiced scepticism regarding the plan to salvage EU’s ailing carbon market.
Barroso: 'Still possible to defend the climate'
Asked by EurActiv to comment on Beyrer’s statement, Barroso sought a middle ground between BusinessEurope and the environmentalists.
“I think it is possible to continue with a position which is in defence of the climate. I think climate change is an existential threat,” Barroso started by saying.
But he added that the response to the climate change challenge should be made “together with the community of entrepreneurs”.
“It is true that in the last period some companies face energy competitiveness problems which didn’t exist a few years ago”, he added.
Barroso also insisted that the Commission would “lead a line in defence of climate”, by obtaining from global partners to do more on climate change and avoid that European industry is put in a position where its industries are placed at a competitive disadvantage.
“We have engaged a dialogue with our partners. A few days ago [US Secretary of State] John Kerry paid us a visit and you probably heard him saying that the US administration is committing to do more during the second mandate of President Obama. We are also working with the Chinese, with others as well,” Barroso said.
He added that the Commission was preparing a Communication for the EU summit on energy on 22 May, to which he said he was “personally contributing”.
“We are convinced that we should keep a leadership position in climate protection. But at the same time we are very concerned about the energy intensive industry sectors, which should not be put in a situation of lack of competitiveness with respect to their competitors,” Barroso said.
The European Wind Energy Association's new CEO, Thomas Becker, sent EurActiv the following statement: “It sounds a little old fashioned when BusinessEurope claims that fighting climate change is not compatible with cost-competitiveness and security of supply. What have they been doing for the last 15 years? What planet were they on? The main problem of the energy situation today in Europe is the massive subsidies - still in 2013 - going to fossil fuels and nuclear. If that was corrected and with a properly functioning electricity market there would be no discussion of what choice policy makers would make for the energy mix. But even without such a correction, wind energy is already cheaper than nuclear, and in an increasing number of locations already cost competitive with new gas and coal."
He continued: "Wind energy does not have to be bought and transported into Europe from sometimes unreliable suppliers. Paying higher and higher bills for importing fossil fuels is not my idea of security of supply. A 2030 target for renewable energy is the best way to make all renewables more cost-competitive, would create jobs and huge investment in Europe – rather than in some fossil-fuel producing country. It would ensure that the world-leading European wind industry grows and flourishes even more. It is time for BusinessEurope to stop representing the interests of fossil fuel exporting regimes and start representing the interests of European businesses.”
- 22 May: Extraordinary EU summit to discuss energy policies and broader taxation matters.