EU negotiators finally signed off on new energy efficiency rules Tuesday evening (19 June), as Bulgaria’s EU Presidency wrapped up another clean energy file. But some of the concessions made by MEPs have already provoked criticism.
It took six rounds of talks, the resignation of an MEP and a heavy dose of compromise but new laws on energy efficiency for the next decade were finalised on Tuesday, with national representatives and EU lawmakers agreeing on an overall EU-wide target of 32.5% by 2030.
That meant that the Council and Parliament met exactly halfway between their initial starting points of 30% and 35%, respectively.
But negotiators could only agree on a non-binding indicative goal, which in EU-speak is now being touted as a “headline” target. When inter-institutional talks began, MEPs had insisted that a binding target was their main red line.
The Council was able to defend its own red line though; namely, where energy savings should or should not actually be made. MEPs and the Commission wanted this to be linked to primary consumption, i.e. where power is produced, while EU countries wanted the option to choose.
It looked likely that the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) would mirror the renewable energy directive (RED) agreement with a ‘32/32’ set of targets but the extra half a percentage point sets the energy savings rules apart. The RED deal is also binding rather than a mere ‘headline’.
But the EED does contain a 2023 review clause, like the renewables rules. Greens MEP Benedek Javor explained that its “very important” inclusion is intended to help align the legislation with the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Javor told EURACTIV that the deal is “insufficient” to meet the 2015 climate accord obligations but insisted that it is at least more ambitious than the Council’s 2014 conclusions, which only envisaged a 27% target.
The Hungarian lawmaker added that tonight’s agreement is a “political reality” that makes it possible to tie up another clean energy law, the governance regulation, within the next 12 hours. Talks had started and were ongoing at the time of writing.
Environmental groups were quick to give the agreement short shrift. European Environmental Bureau (EEB) expert Roland Joebstl branded the outcome “disappointing” and a mere “door-opener for more ambition”.
His counterpart at Friends of the Earth Europe, Clémence Hutin, added that the new pact is “a let down for the climate and Europe’s energy poor”, denouncing the agreement as a “missed opportunity for emissions cuts, decent homes, cheaper energy bills and local green jobs”.
Leftist MEP Xabier Benito Ziluaga (GUE/NGL) also called it “inefficient” and also cast doubt on Europe’s ability to deliver on the Paris accord.
Cost-effectiveness played a major role in the horse-trading, especially since it was revealed that the Commission had allegedly used flawed data to estimate its original overall and annual targets.
The Coalition for Energy Savings said the agreement could create 840,000 additional jobs in the EU but warned that a 32.5% benchmark falls short of the cost potential of efficiency and pledged to use the period up to 2023 to convince legislators of the merits of a 40% target.
Socialist and Democrat MEP Miroslav Poche, the Parliament’s lead negotiator, made significant concessions in talks last week, even offering up a non-binding target in exchange for trade-offs elsewhere.
But Bulgarian Presidency negotiator Zhecho Stankov insisted that his mandate was not generous enough to meet the Parliament’s new negotiating position and the talks collapsed. However, the weekend ultimately proved enough to secure a compromise.
Poche tweeted after tonight’s agreement that the deal is “strong” on Article 7 and that the final text will guarantee “higher annual savings” than the European Commission’s original proposal.
Commission climate boss Miguel Arias Cañete called it a “major push for Europe’s energy independence”, echoing points made by green groups that every percentage point of energy efficiency equals a 4% reduction in energy imports.
“Europe is by far the largest importer of fossil fuel in the world. Today we put an end to this,” he said in a statement.
The Spanish Commissioner, who earlier in the day was in Berlin, was reportedly responsible for convincing the Bulgarian Presidency that a majority existed to finalise the deal.
Cañete will have breathed a sigh of relief at news of the agreement as the Commission has targeted an unveiling of its 2050 net-zero emissions strategy by the end of the year. In order to start work in earnest, his team needed final confirmation of targets.
**Updated at 23:11 with reaction from Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete
Eurelectric Secretary-General Kristian Ruby said: "Now we need agreement on the electricity market regulation. And we have to monitor the impact of higher targets on the carbon market. A meaningful carbon price signal is important to ensure decarbonisation - also beyond the power sector”.