A draft 'EU 2020' strategy proposal has come under attack for failing to offer a road map to green growth, despite rhetoric on the importance of gaining a competitive edge in environmental technologies.
The European Commission's draft, seen by EURACTIV, flags green growth as one of three priorities for building a competitive economy by 2020.
It stresses the need to exploit "Europe's leadership in the race to develop greener and cleaner technology" and improve resource efficiency, while promoting the roll-out of smart electricity grids and EU-wide networks.
The Commission proposes three "flagship initiatives" on resource efficiency, clean and efficient energy and an industrial policy for the globalisation era, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on imported fossil fuels.
For instance, the paper notes that meeting the EU's energy goals "could result in €60 billion less in oil and gas imports by 2020".
But Green MEP Claude Turmes (Luxembourg) criticised Commission President José Manuel Barroso for sidelining environment and energy in the draft plan.
"Outside some empty words on 'green growth', the Barroso proposal is downgrading environment and the big job opportunities linked to investments in green technologies, services and infrastructures," Turmes said.
The vice president of the Green group in the European Parliament, who has been a strong proponent of using the economic crisis as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to move to a low-carbon economy, argued that the document does little to promote environmental technologies and hardly mentions renewable energies.
The proposal, he points out, warns that the EU is in danger of losing its leadership on green technologies to the US and China but does not outline any measures to regain it.
To measure progress, the strategy reaffirms the EU's existing climate goals for 2020 – to reduce emissions by 20%, boost the share of renewables in the bloc's energy mix to 20% and reduce energy use by 20%.
The EU's climate and energy package, agreed in 2008, already translated these EU headline targets into national goals on CO2 and renewables, which are legally binding.
"These targets should mobilise all our attention. This means strong leadership, commitment and an effective delivery mechanism," the paper states.
But debate rages over the energy efficiency goal, which remains aspirational despite a strong push from the European Parliament and environmentalists to make it binding law.
Turmes also pointed out that the strategy includes no targets for including social and environmental indicators to measure well-being beyond GDP. Moreover, he regretted that the text made no mention of the EU's pledge to move to a 30% emissions reduction target in the event that an international agreement is reached on climate change.
Concrete policy initiatives under the strategy include a long-term roadmap for low-carbon energy systems by 2050 and the adoption of a revised Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which was already expected under the previous Commission.
The Commission also says it will propose a trade strategy that will include a proposal in the World Trade organisation (WTO) "to remove all custom-duties on 'green products' and more intensive cooperation on international standardisation issues.
Moreover, the EU executive confirmed that it will present a major plan for upgrading Europe's energy networks (EURACTIV 29/01/10).
Support schemes for renewable energy
The Commission paper stresses the importance of market-based instruments, such as emissions trading, in the fight against climate change and proposes making the revision of energy taxation and public procurement rules a priority at EU level.
In addition, it promises to present proposals for removing obstacles to the creation of a single market for renewable energy. It estimates that further progress on integrating the European energy market could add an extra 0.6% to 0.8% to the bloc's GDP.
But Turmes warned that this could reopen a long-running debate between member states, the Parliament and the Commission on national support schemes. The issue was resolved in favour of successful national support schemes like Germany's feed-in tariffs.
"Barroso is giving in to pressure from the big energy oligopolies to reopen the battle on stable support schemes for renewable energies, thus threatening one of the only areas where EU is still in industrial leadership," he said.
The MEP argued that the most urgent problem hampering competitiveness in the energy market is strong cartelisation, but regretted that this did not even deserve a mention in the strategy.