EU ‘energy revolution’ does not convince

The Commission’s energy and climate change package, presented on 10 January, received a lukewarm welcome in industry and NGO circles. EURACTIV provides a comprehensive positions overview.

The long-awaited energy/climate package triggered much immediate reaction from industry federations, NGOs, political groups and think-tanks. In two days, EURACTIV received more than 30 different position papers. Most centre largely on the organisation’s particular “interests”, while none of them seem to make a full evaluation of all Commission proposals.

It is significant that no industry position made any reference to the recent Stern Report, which shows that the long-term benefits of a strong climate-change policy far outweigh the limited short-term mitigation costs (EURACTIV 31/1006).

Several business organisations (UNICE, Eurochambres) as well as the European Chemicals industry (CEFIC) criticised the Commission's unilateral CO2 reduction targets for 2020. "Further strong CO2 reduction targets that have not been adopted by other major emitting nations will weaken the European industry's competitiveness within the global business environment without achieving effective environmental benefits," said a CEFIC press statement.

Employers' organisation UNICE also warned of serious price hikes as a result of the Commission's proposals. "If the contribution of nuclear energy does not increase in the EU in the future," writes UNICE, "the increased demand for renewable energies will be such that their price will skyrocket, making the envisaged EU energy strategy virtually impossible to sustain."

The Commission's intention to continue its energy-market liberalisation, on the other hand, is shared by most industry groups. The Union of the Electricity Industry (Eurelectric) as well as SME lobby UEAPME and the European Federation of Energy Traders (EFET) greeted the drive to complete the internal market. This opinion is not shared by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), which calls the package a "PR exercise to justify higher energy bills and disguise failure of liberalisation". ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation, also considered the "pursuit of electricity and gas market liberalisation to be 'reckless'.

The European electricity industry association Eurelectric is much more critical of the Commission's renewables targets. "The EU should avoid command-and-control measures such as binding energy targets or requirements to use only certain technologies," and questioned the "wisdom and the realism of the proposed dramatic compulsory increase in the share of RES (renewables) in the energy mix by 2020".

Foratom, the nuclear industry lobby, expressed its satisfaction with the Commission's evaluation that "nuclear energy is one of the largest sources of carbon-dioxide free energy in Europe". It did not comment on the fact that the Commission leaves the decision on the future of nuclear in the hands of member states.

The lobbying groups for the renewable energy industry were less impressed. EREC, the European Renewable Energy Council criticised the Commission's "vague measures and ambiguous commitments". EREC Policy Director Oliver Schäfer said: "This energy package is another major step on the Commission's road to becoming the world leader in pure announcements and lip-service. In fact, for renewables it means a re-nationalisation of existing effective European legislation." ESTIF, the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation, complained that the Commission did not put forward a proposal on renewable heating and cooling.

COGEN Europe regretted that the Commission does not give enough weight to co-generation, "the most immediate single source of both energy saving and CO2 reduction available in Europe today". Cogen Managing Director Fiona Riddoch said: "Cogeneration is a successful available technology providing 10% of Europe’s electricity today. There are no technical doubts, planning unknowns or supply-chain issues; if urgency is key, Europe can act now."

CEPI, the European paper industry association, said that it supported the Commission's integrated view on climate change, energy and industrial competitiveness, describing it as "a big step in the right direction". However, it added that "by focusing solely on setting targets, the current debate on renewables is heading in the wrong direction". "Consideration of the potentially negative impact on ... Europe’s forests and its industrial competitiveness are missing," CEPI added.

Environmental NGOs focused on the Commission's climate-change goals. The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said that the package "lacks teeth". EEB chief John Hontelez called the EU greenhouse-gas reduction target "unacceptably weak" and the energy policy proposals "unconvincing and potentially even damaging, particularly regarding biofuels and nuclear power". WWF made similar comments, describing the EU energy revolution as "still a distant dream". Friends of the Earth Europe  called the package "good news for the dirty energy industry, bad news for people and the planet".

The Commission adopted its energy and climate change "package" on 10 January 2007. The package consists of nine proposals (with corresponding impact assessments):

  • A general communication under the title "An Energy Package for Europe";
  • a "Renewable Energy Roadmap";
  • a progress report on renewable electricity;
  • a progress report on biofuels,
  • a prospect report on the internal market for gas and electricity;
  • a "Priority interconnection plan";
  • a "Nuclear Energy illustrative programme";
  • a communication on "sustainable power generation from fossil fuels", and;
  • a proposal for a future European Strategic Energy Technology (SET) plan.

The so-called revolution towards a low-carbon economy has one central element: the unilateral commitment by the EU to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% in 2020 (compared with 1990 levels). For more details on the proposals, see EURACTIV's stories on 11 January  and 12 January.

  • Several Council formations will discuss the energy/climate package in coming weeks and months:
    • Foreign Affairs on 22 January
    • Energy on 15 February
    • Competitiveness on 19 February
    • Environment on 20 February
  • The Parliament will also hold a debate on the package before March.
  • On 8-9 March 2007, the EU leaders summit in Berlin is set to adopt a concrete action plan.

As always, EURACTIV welcomes reactions from readers. Send us your reactions to this article, comments or positions to:

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