France resists last-minute push for EU renewables target

The UK has joined Germany, the European Commission and other member states to push for an EU target on renewable energies to be made mandatory, raising the stakes of the Spring Summit that will take place in Brussels on 8-9 March 2007.

A Commission proposal to increase the EU’s share of renewable energies to a mandatory 20% of the bloc’s overall consumption by 2020 is being resisted by France, despite last-minute efforts by Germany and a recent spectacular U-turn by Britain.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair confirmed on 1 March 2007 that the UK will support the proposal at an EU summit on 8-9 March, in a move that effectively overrules Industry Secretary Alistair Darling.

“We believe we have to be ambitious and therefore we have to support the proposal for a binding EU-wide 20% target for renewables,” the spokesman said, adding that the EU needed to be ambitious if is to convince other countries, including the US and China, to take action on climate change.

At a meeting on 15 February, energy ministers backed the 20% share target but insisted that it be kept as a flexible objective “taking into account national circumstances” (EURACTIV 16/02/07).

Germany, which will chair the March summit, also hopes to make progress on renewables as part of efforts on climate change that will culminate with a G8 summit it will host in the Baltic Sea resort Heiligendamm on 6-8 June. Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Slovenia and Italy are all said to be firmly in the camp of those supporting a binding EU target.

But France, backed by Poland and other reluctant EU members, said that it prefers keeping flexibility on the matter.

“We are not in favour of fixing binding targets in renewable energy,” said a French official after a meeting of EU ambassadors in preparation for the summit on 28 February. “It is up to each member state, in all flexibility and subsidiarity, to set its own objective. Our position has not changed.”

France prefers that the summit limits itself to supporting a binding target on greenhouse gases, an objective that leaves it sufficient flexibility to bank on its strong nuclear industry, which is low in carbon intensity.

However, French President Jacques Chirac may also decide to exit with a flourish, in what will be his last European summit before he steps down in May.

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