EU survey finds ‘enormous disparity’ in national energy efficiency policies

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An expert study has uncovered vast differences in the ambition and nature of energy efficiency policies implemented across the 28 EU member states.

The EU-funded Energy Efficiency Watch analysis interviewed 80 experts and collected 655 questionnaires before concluding that an “enormous disparity” between EU states needed to be overcome with more harmonisation and integration of policies.

“In some member states, the recognition of the economic, social, political and environmental benefits of energy efficiency drives ambitious legislation and funding programmes,” the report says, “whereas others just do the bare minimum required by the European Directives (and sometimes even less than that).”

EU legislation requires states to submit National Energy Efficiency Action Plans (NEEAPs) in the years 2007, 2011 and 2014 outlining their plans to achieve indicative targets of 9% final energy savings by 2016, as required by the Energy Services Directive.  

Ex-government officials from different EU countries have told EURACTIV that the directive's non-binding targets were routinely ignored, ticked off, or met by using legislative tricks.

Ralf Schüle of the Wuppertal Institute who helped screen member state NEEAPs for the survey said that substantial progress had been made in the buildings sector and with energy saving public procurement.

But “measures addressing different sectors are often not well aligned with each other or lack a clear design in terms of their implementation at the member state level,” he cautioned.

Modal shifts in transport and coherent policy packages for industry – including the carriage of goods – also need to be addressed, according to the report. Across the continent, the least ambition in energy savings measures was found in the transport sector.

Lack of political will

The report’s authors blamed “the lack of political will and a clear strategy to act”.

The survey – of private sector, public sector, energy agency and academic actors in the field – bemoaned a lack of long-term strategy or vision beyond 2020.

Denmark and Bulgaria are singled out for praise in their strategic planning, while public sector planners in France and the UK were lauded for their clear vision.

But Italy, and the Czech and Slovak republics were the three countries where energy efficiency policies had progressed the least since the first NEEAPs.

Stefan Thomas, the director of the Institute’s energy and climate division, said that crucial steps to a more effective and integrated energy saving policy included "the establishment of institutions and infrastructures that promote energy efficiency, such as energy or climate protection agencies, the establishment of energy efficiency obligations and/or energy efficiency trusts or funds and the creation of favourable framework conditions for energy services."

Only a minority of EU states had made a clear link between long-term climate, energy and energy efficiency strategy, the report found. For now, the overall picture of the continent’s efficiency performance remained “somewhat ambivalent” it said.

CBI joins the fray

The new Europe-wide analysis was released on 28 August, as the UK’s Confederation of British Industry (CBI) also called for a big push on energy efficiency. The British business leaders’ group called for:

  • A weaving of policy strands to create a coherent framework that engaged employers
  • Supporting the energy-intensive sector with increased use of Combined Heat and Power technology
  • Using the Business Bank set up by UK's business minister Vince Cable to help SMEs, to raise awareness about available energy saving schemes and expanding the Green Deal for businesses
  • Studying how business rates could be used to incentivise energy efficiency – by waiving rates for the refurbishment of properties left empty in the short term

Rhian Kelly the CBI’s director for Business Environment Policy said that energy savings measures had “sneaked under the radar” to materially help UK business but still had great untapped potential.

“Businesses are frustrated with the tangle of overlapping policies that are bureaucratic, complex and costly,” she said. “Some firms will have to report their energy use and emissions in different ways under different schemes, so the government should assess all energy efficiency policies that affect business and come up with a simpler approach.”

Businesses also needed to step up and “make the leap” to energy efficient practices, in Kelly’s view.

“The government could explore ways of using business rates more innovatively to reward those who plough money back into improving the energy performance of buildings,” she said.


Friends of the Earth UK’s Head of Campaigns Andrew Pendleton said of the new CBI report: “With rocketing fuel prices, an impending climate crisis and mounting concerns about energy security it’s astonishing that Ministers haven’t made energy efficiency a top priority. Government efforts to help cash-strapped households cut energy waste have floundered and its flagship Green Deal policy is sinking fast."

He added: “Ministers must stop dithering. A massive, clear and coordinated energy efficiency programme would create new jobs and business opportunities - and is the only credible way to help households and firms cut power bills in the short term.”


The Energy Services Directive was adopted in 2006 and was seen as a key energy efficiency tool that could also help remove barriers to operating in Europe's internal market. Currently, only 5-10% of EU GDP is generated by providing cross-border services.

The original deadline for member states to fully implement the directive into national law was 31 December 2009.

A November 2009 debate in the European Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) saw a number of MEPs express misgivings over the directive's implementation in EU member states, not merely in terms of timing but also concerning the methods used by individual countries.


  • By end of 2013: Communication on 2030 targets expected
  • June 2014: European Commission to review national targets towards meeting the 2020 energy efficiency target
  • April 2014: Deadline for National Energy Efficiency Actions Plans to be submitted to Brussels
  • 2014, 2016: European Commission to review the Energy Efficiency directive.
  • 2020: Deadline for EU states to meet voluntary 20% energy-efficiency target

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