Energy choices proving complex for EU

Ministers agreed to pursue efforts on renewable energies but countries such as France refuse new binding targets until priority is placed on low-carbon sources, including nuclear, to achieve overarching climate goals.

Ministers shared views on energy efficiency and renewables on 22 November as part of a broader discussion on the EU’s energy choices ahead of a Strategic EU Energy Review to be presented by the Commission in January.

The review will assess the contribution of every source of energy – wind, nuclear, coal or other – to the objectives of sustainability, competitiveness and supply security endorsed by EU leaders in March. It will also include a renewable energy road map with possible new targets after 2010.

The ministers were only able to reach a minimalist consensus, saying that renewable energies “enhance competitiveness and security of supply”. They insisted on R&D programmes at both national and EU levels to make the technologies more competitive.

Discussions were held based on a questionnaire circulated by the Finnish Presidency. On renewables, the Finns recalled “each member states’ right to decide on its own energy mix”, bearing in mind local circumstances.

But it added that the development of renewables also “has consequences in terms of generation, transmission and distribution and therefore cannot be treated in isolation from decisions on the overall fuel-mix.”

Addressing the Energy Council, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said that mandatory targets were the best option to increase the share of renewable energy in Europe.

But while there is a broad consensus on the benefits brought by renewable energies, questions remain as to "how far to go with new EU binding targets", French diplomats said, explaining that "there is no ideal EU energy mix."

"Many member states expressed their concerns about continuing the current structure of EU renewable energy policy, which is based on specific targets for the three sectors: electricity, heating and transport," said EREC, the European Renewable Energy Council.

France's Industry minister François Loos said after the meeting that there needed to be "a clear hierarchy of objectives", with climate change mitigation prioritised as the overarching goal.

He referred to the Commission's energy green paper which suggests that the EU should aim to obtain 50% of its primary energy from low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear.

"It is this objective that we should trail," Loos told journalists after the meeting, indicating that France had already achieved 46% while the EU as a whole reached 21%. However, he declined to say how much of the French figure could be attributed to nuclear.

The European Atomic Forum (Foratom) also recalls that the Commission's energy green paper acknowledges the role currently played by nuclear energy as "the EU's largest source of largely carbon-free energy in Europe". 

A "nuclear relaunch" is currently taking place in Europe with a host of countries, including the UK, planning to extend the life-cycle of existing plants or to replace them with new ones.

Separately, the European Parliament's Industry Committee on 23 November backed calls for binding targets for renewable energies in order to achieve a 25% share of renewables in primary energy by 2020.

The Commission opened the debate on a future common European Energy Policy with the publication of a 'Green Paper' in March 2006. 

However, in the absence of a legal base for energy policy at European level, the process will require strong political will from European leaders if it is to deliver. 

At a March 2006 summit, member states already made clear that they would not tolerate interference with national sovereignty, especially when it comes to making sensitive political choices on the energy mix, such as opting for nuclear power.

  • 10 January 2007: Commission to present Strategic Energy Review focusing on both external and internal aspects of EU energy policy and analysing advantages and drawbacks of each source of energy.

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