EU-wide energy governance plans ‘lack teeth’

Member states will likely welcome the soft touch approach to governance. [Cédric Puisney/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / European Commission plans for an EU-wide energy governance system make no mention of punishment for any member state not reaching their climate and energy targets for 2030.

Any governance system without the threat of legal action, such as Commission infringement proceedings, which can lead to fines,  would lack teeth, green campaigners said.

Governments will have to submit national plans and report twice-yearly on how they are being carried out, Commission documents for national officials obtained by EURACTIV revealed.

That data will be collated and published in an annual report, the Commission discussion paper for civil servants in charge of national climate and energy departments said.

The document, a first step in the creation of the governance framework, sets out objectives, possible tools, and areas for future debate with member state.

None of those sections refer to any enforcement for those governments that fail to meet their commitments.

Similar rules in the past have not penalised EU countries for hitting targets but have brought legal action against them for not taking steps to meet the goals.

The discussion paper was circulated among member states before officials meet on 15 July.  After summer, the EU Council’s energy working group will meet to discuss it further.

The Commission is hoping to secure support for the broad outline of the governance framework at the November meeting of EU energy ministers.

Why is it important?

A new governance system is needed because 2030 renewable and efficiency targets are not legally binding at national level, but are at EU-level.

It was decided by EU leaders that a governance and monitoring process of member states was needed to make sure the EU target was hit, even though individual countries’ targets were indicative.

In October last year, leaders agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40%, and to increase energy efficiency and renewables by at least 27%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2030.

In their conclusions, they insisted a future governance system ensured the necessary flexibility for member states to reach the targets.

>>Read: EU leaders adopt ‘flexible’ energy and climate targets for 2030

The goals are a cornerstone of the bloc’s fight against climate change. They were hailed by EU leaders as a strong singal of intent ahead of November’s UN Climate Change Conference, which aims to secure a binding worldwide agreement to limit global warming.

While the 40% target is binding, the efficieny and renewables targets of at least 27% are not legally binding at national level.

A precedent for punishment?

The bloc’s 2020 efficiency and renewables targets are binding at national level. National binding targets mean member states face possible penalties after infringement procedures. The commitment remains regardless of any change of government.

The EU’s 2001 Renewable Energy Directive set EU and national non-binding targets for renewable electricity.

Any legal action against a member state results not in missing the target, but in failing to take all the steps necessary to reach it.

The 2009 Renewable Energy Directive doesn’t include a penalty mechanism for missing a target. But infringement procedures were begun in 2011 against Poland, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Belgium, Austria and Estonia.

In 2013, the Commission called for a daily €1,33288.80 fine for Poland and a daily €11,404.80 fine for Cyprus, for failing to put the rules on its lawbooks.

Climate Action Network Europe renewable policy coordinator Jean-François Fauconnier said, “The Commission’s discussion paper on the Energy Union governance system is completely lacking teeth. Planning and reporting alone will not ensure that the EU meets and exceeds its 2030 energy and climate goals.

“With this proposal governments will not be held accountable for failing to invest in renewables and energy efficiency.Europe’s success on renewables has been driven by binding national renewable energy targets.”

Energy Union

The new governance system is also seen as vital for the broader Energy Union strategy. Energy Union is the bloc’s plan to bolster its resilience to shortages, as well as fight climate change.

The discussion paper, a starting point for talks between the Commission and member states, highlights how the reporting system would help strengthen energy security and integrate the European energy market. 

When he was Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, spearheaded the idea of an EU Energy Union. The idea has since been taken up by the European Commission which nominated a special Commissioner, Maroš Šef?ovi?, to steer the project.

Details of the proposal started to emerge on 4 February, when the College of Commissioners discussed the plan for the first time. The communication was published on 25 February and includes an annex of “concrete proposals”, including legislation, decisions and analysis.

The Energy Union will cut across a number of policy sectors including energy, transport, research and innovation, foreign policy, regional and neighbourhood policy, trade and agriculture, according to the EU executive's plans.

A new governance system is seen as vital for the broader Energy Union strategy. Energy Union is the bloc’s plan to bolster its resilience to shortages, as well as fight climate change.

  • 15 July: Leading national officials meet to discuss plans
  • November: EU Council of energy ministers
  • November/December: UN Climate Change conference in Paris

European Commission

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