EU’s ‘efficiency first’ principle on the line in crucial Parliament vote

EPP MEP Markus Pieper will hope his gamble on courting the far-right pays off in today's vote. [European Parliament]

Lawmakers will vote Tuesday (28 November) on a crucial energy saving law that has polarised the European Parliament’s main political groups, following months of bitter campaigning.

The result is still too close to call after the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) courted the far-right for support in the vote, taking place in the European Parliament’s  committee on industry, transport, research and energy (ITRE).

Going into today’s vote, the progressive factions led by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group look set to throw their weight behind rapporteur Adam Gierek’s call for a binding 40% target, while conservative forces back Markus Pieper’s (EPP) indicative 30%.

While the former enjoys the support of the liberal ALDE and Greens/EFA groups, the latter can count on the ECR group and the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), which has Marine Le Pen’s National Front among its ranks.

This unlikely alliance between centre-right and far-right means the vote is finely balanced, with sources familiar with the file predicting that there could actually be only one vote separating the two groups’ amendments.

Crucially, the EPP itself could dash its own hopes at securing a 30% target, as progressive members of the centre-right group could choose to abstain rather than support amendments backed by the far-right. Pieper’s chances of snatching victory will hinge on how many of his colleagues succeed in equating the two positions.

The vote in the industry and energy committee, which has the lead on the file, comes nearly three months after the environment committee resoundingly backed a binding 40% target in its adopted opinion.

EU lawmakers back 40% energy efficiency target for 2030

MEPs agreed on Thursday (7 September) to raise the bloc’s proposed energy efficiency targets post-2020 in order to improve chances of meeting EU obligations under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Markus Pieper vs the world

Pieper has defended his compromise amendments, which have revised the Commission’s proposal to the same extent as the European Council’s stance, by claiming that they are in line with the EU executive’s impact assessment.

But new analysis released by the Commission itself on Monday (27 November), produced at the request of the industry committee’s secretariat, casts this claim into doubt, as it concludes that several aspects of Pieper’s amendments will severely “reduce the ambition” of the original proposal.

For example, the analysis claims that the MEP’s plan to meet 2021-2030 energy saving requirements by using measures implemented within the current period, would gut the Commission’s “ambition level” by 100%.

A further proposal to cap exemptions at 35% rather than 25% would also cut the ambition level by 13%. While the Commission did acknowledge that Pieper’s amendments overall matched the levels of the initial proposal, it found that the S&D blueprint scaled it up by 68%.

The German MEP also hit back at NGOs and environmental groups that have pushed for a 40% target, accusing them of spreading “fake news and unfair campaigning”.

In a press release circulated yesterday, the EPP group condemned the S&D’s “utopian approach to energy savings”, insisting that the socialists and their allies have “fallen prey to the populist games played by extremist NGO lobbying organisations”. It added that the 40% target is mere “fantasy”.

The EPP’s claims are somewhat contradicted by leading businesses. Speaking to EURACTIV last week, the CEO of French energy group Engie, Isabelle Kocher, called on lawmakers to adopt energy savings objectives that are both “very high and binding”, expressing support for a 40% target.

The 40% objective is also supported by the European Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of leading businesses which includes the likes of Veolia, Siemens, Philips Lighting, and Danfoss, among others.

In a statement, the alliance warned that lowering the ambition  level below 40% energy savings “would set policy goals below the business-as-usual energy efficiency improvement trajectory and will have no impact on the ground”.

It called on legislators to back a 40% target as a way to embody the European Commission’s promise to put “efficiency first” in all energy policies.

The EPP also reasserted its claim that it was willing to play ball with the socialists and offer “a binding target corridor between 30 and 35%, which was to be evaluated at regular intervals” but that the S&D rejected the compromise.

Rapporteur Adam Gierek has had an eventful stint at the helm of the file, after his initial drafts were widely criticised within his own group. Sources have told that the Polish MEP in fact surrendered de facto control to the group in a bid to save face.

EU Parliament set for war over energy efficiency

Lawmakers in the European Parliament have finalised the text of a crucial energy efficiency law ahead of an important vote on 28 November. But political infighting both between and within the main political groups means the result is far from certain.

Trillions of euros still at stake

Last week, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) sent a letter to energy committee MEPs urging the EU to adopt a binding energy efficiency target of at least 30%.

Group CEO Stephanie Pfeifer reiterated that point yesterday, saying the goal would “send a clear and positive signal to investors swiftly enough to ensure a smooth transition to a low carbon economy. Equally, annual savings obligations should be extended post-2020 and ambition increased beyond the current level of 1.5%.”

IIGCC represents capital that is worth over €20 trillion, a figure that is six times Germany’s GDP. In its letter, seen by EURACTIV, the group also suggests that although its members prefer to invest in Europe, they will look elsewhere if the adopted file fails to provide investor certainty.

Given that Pieper’s compromise amendments back a non-binding 30% target and are far less ambitious on energy savings, as part of Article 7 of the directive, the IIGC letter could be interpreted as indirect support for the S&D’s position.

Trillions of euros of energy efficiency investment up for grabs

European Union policymakers have made energy efficiency, particularly in buildings, central to their plans to create an Energy Union. But they must convince private investors to unlock trillions of euros of capital.

The energy efficiency vote will close the morning session of ITRE’s packed agenda, which also includes a long-awaited showdown for renewable energy targets.

Following the vote, ITRE lawmakers will be asked whether to grant Adam Gierek a mandate to go straight into trilateral talks. It remains to be seen whether the S&D will allow Gierek to negotiate on behalf of the Parliament alone.

The Polish MEP has also reportedly insisted that the adopted file be voted on by a full sitting of MEPs in plenary, before the Parliament grants the resulting text the green light.

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