The European Commission on Wednesday (23 July) proposed reducing the bloc's energy use by 30% by 2030, leaving it up to EU heads of states to decide whether or not to endorse the target at a forthcoming summit in October.

The EU executive has been considering new targets to replace the EU's existing 2020 goals to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases, ramp up renewable energies and increase energy savings.

“I’m happy that the Commission unanimously agreed on a proposal for a 30% higher efficiency target,” said Günther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner responsible for energy policy.

The European Commission called the target "achievable" yet "ambitious", arguing in its communication that it “strikes the right balance between benefits and costs”.

Tensions between Europe and Russia since the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane put the issue of energy security once more on the agenda of policy makers. Over the past few days, civil society as well as EU parliamentarians stressed that more energy efficiency will reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas.

But, said the German Commissioner, “the target cannot be measured solely in one specific fossil fuel. Whether the reduction [of the energy use] is done in the gas sector, oil sector or coal sector depends on the energy policy, on the ETS policy and on national policies”.

Member states pressure

In recent weeks, the European Commission’s ambitions on energy efficiency have dropped considerably. A report by the Commission, seen by EurActiv in June, showed a target of 40% was under consideration.

EU’s energy efficiency review puts high target on agenda on EurActiv

EU’s energy efficiency review puts high target on agenda

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Asked why the Commission did not opt for a more ambitious target, the Commissioner pointed out that efficiency requires renovations of buildings or homes, as well as investments in innovation for utilities or products.

“The 30% target has a decent chance to get support in the European Council,” Oettinger said, suggesting that a higher target would likely be refused.

Ahead of the European Commission's announcement, France’s energy minister was reported to support the 30% figure as a compromise, together with Germany.

France throws weight behind 30% energy savings goal on EurActiv

France throws weight behind 30% energy savings goal

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“We’ve been discussing the issue of energy efficiency more intensely with the member states, but also with the European Parliament,” Oettinger stated. “It is the figure we are going to take to the Council and we’re going to ask for feedback: is it something you can support politically and are you willing to make it binding.”

In October, the communication will land on the table of national governments in Council. While member states are expected to go for the suggested target, another key question is whether that should be binding or not.

Following the announcement, civil society organisations, as well as business representatives, called the decision of the Commission to land at 30% “downright irresponsible” and “a recipe for failure”. MEPs from all mainstream factions in the Europe, too, spoke out clearly, stressing that the European Parliament backed a 40% target earlier this year. (See positions below.)

Targets for 2020 not reached

EurActiv reported Wednesday (23 July) on the assessment on the EU’s 2020 targets, released jointly with the 2030 target. The EU will fail to reach its goals on saving energy and improving energy efficiency, the Commission officially acknowledged on Wednesday.

“By our analysis we can say we will be achieving 18% to 19% of energy efficiency,” Oettinger commented to reporters.

EU member states not reaching 2020 energy efficiency goals, Commission says on EurActiv

EU member states not reaching 2020 energy efficiency goals, Commission says

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According to the EU executive, the outcome for 2020 lies in the hands of member states: “If the member states were prepared to implement fully the legally binding measures, then we would achieve the 20% figure,” said Oettinger.