Green MEP: Lobbyists stopped ambitious EU energy targets

Reinhard Bütikofer MEP [Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung/Flickr]

Reinhard Bütikofer MEP said the EU governments granted each other veto rights to water down the renewable energy package. He also believes that the Energy Union and pursuing innovation should be on the top of the new Commission’s agenda, as well as fighting bureaucracy, and populism. 

Reinhard Bütikofer MEP, is co-chair of the European Green Party and their spokesperson on industrial policy in the European Parliament. He sits in the parliament’s Industry, Research, and Energy, and Foreign Affairs Committees. 

The European Council adopted the 2030 climate and energy targets at the end of October. What do you think of the final package adopted by the Council, in particular about the energy efficiency target that was watered down by member states from 30% to 27%?

The EU is abandoning climate leadership and is handing it over to the US and China, who will call the shots in Paris.[The United Nations international climate talks due to take place next year] But the EU is also letting down its own industry.

Not a single European leader was willing to stand up to the strong lobbying efforts [from the fossil fuels industry]. Member states have also granted each other veto powers on issues of concern to them. France got a veto over more interconnectivity, Poland vetoed the renewables, and the UK blocked more energy efficiency.

Basically there has been a mutual agreement on one common approach, which is the slowest dictates the pace.

Germany would have been in a position to take a leadership role but it was not prepared or it didn’t care. It chose not to fight for something that is at the basis of the strength of the German economy. It’s those countries that invest in renewables and efficiency that are the most innovative or competitive. It’s vice versa. And they should take a lesson from the reality.

Are the European Greens going to try to improve this situation next year when the EC adopts new legislation on the energy efficiency?

Certainly, we will use whatever tools it takes to improve these abysmally bad decisions. Bu it will take more than just a few amendments in the Parliament. We will have to mobilise the citizens and those business sectors that have clearly understood the advantages of following an innovative agenda. We need to forge alliances to pressure the governments to take wiser decisions.

What are you expecting from the first 100 days of the new Commission? What areas do you expect Juncker to deliver on?

I expect him to deliver on the €300 billion plan for investment. But this should not be looked at how fast we move. It is about taking the right steps.

President Juncker has already delivered a new Commission structure. Most of us welcome it even though there are no guarantees it’ll be flawless. Some Commissioners need to report sometimes to as many as five Vice-Presidents. I would expect this Commission to show to the EU citizens that they not only focus on important policies but are also willing to listen to the citizens, and not only the strong lobbying voices.

There are three major challenges to EU democracy; an overly strong lobby, bureaucracy, and populism. 

The Parliament’s Industry, Research, and Energy Committee has agreed to work on four priorities this mandate: innovation, to strengthen SMEs, build a digital market, and to exploit the full potential of the EU’s common energy policy. What are your priorities in this mandate, and how do you intend to push them through?

All four priorities are important to the Greens, but the Energy Union is at the core of our concerns.

We want the Energy Union to have a strong foundation on renewables and energy efficiency. A union that is more than just a title and  one that will make us energy independent. That implies being able to feed renewable energy that is generated in Spain or Portugal into the European grid.

Pursuing innovation was an obvious choice five years ago, but not anymore. Currently, many countries have little trust in their innovative capabilities. Instead of developing new ways of embracing innovation, they pursue protectionist strategies by lowering social and environmental standards, increasing subsidies, and lowering taxes. I am convinced, if we don’t jump ahead of the curb, the EU will fall behind.

You are known as a strong advocate for a harsher policy towards Russia. What do you think of the way the EU handled the Ukraine crisis and what would you suggest as an appropriate response or next steps to alleviate the situation?

Attaining normality in Ukraine is a long-term project because Russia has destroyed all the legal guarantees that assured Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity. Russia has not only annexed Crimea, which is illegal according to international law, but it continues to meddle in Eastern Ukraine even today. I think it’s not going to be easy to reverse the harm that has been done by an aggressive Russian foreign policy.

The most important contribution the EU can make at the moment is to help the Ukrainians build a credible system of government and overcome a long tradition of corruption on the basis on the recent parliamentary election. Sufficient economic support will allow Ukraine to maintain independence and to push back against Russian interference.

We have not allowed the Russian president to divide and conquer. If prior to the crisis, the EU was ready to grant Gazprom whatever exemption was asked for from the third energy package, today that is no longer the case.  Maroš Šef?ovi?, Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union, said clearly during the hearing that South Stream is not a project that is in Europe’s interest. [South Stream is a project initiated by two energy companies, a Russian and an Italian, to build a pipeline to transport Russian gas through the Black Sea to Europe.]

You mentioned a few times before and after the elections that you want to give European citizens a direct say in the decision making-process. How do you plan to do that?

The European Citizen’s Initiative is a good example. “The Right to Water” campaign collected one million signatures from the EU citizens and stopped the former Commissioner for Internal Market, Michel Barnier, from allowing municipal water supply to be privatised. We need to build on such examples.

We cannot accept that the involvement of the citizens is cast away by an arrogant bureaucratic attitude.

For instance, the Commission President Juncker’s announcement of a €300 billion plan for investment was met with discontent by a number of EU countries. He was even under pressure from some member states to abandon the idea for such a plan.

People had gone for too long through austerity and we need to mobilise SMEs, trade unions, NGOs, and local communities to advocate important infrastructure investment to increase competitiveness of our economies.

As European Greens we will come out with our own proposal supporting this initiative.

Your party is meeting in Istanbul at the end of this week. What do you plan to achieve at this meeting, and what will be the main focus of the gathering?

This congress will have a special focus on external affairs where a resolution on Ukraine will be adopted. We will also discuss extensively and adopt a resolution on the situation in the Middle East.  

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