Guarded reactions to Europe’s new energy policy

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Brussels stakeholders are generally encouraged by EU heads of states’ endorsement of a new energy policy for Europe but guard against optimism, saying political actions must now follow.

EU employers’ organisation UNICE commended EU leaders for adopting the strategy, but said the priorities should now be “to establish market competition, ensure energy supply and take into account the link between energy and CO2”. 

The European association of chambers of commerce and industry, Eurochambres says it “applauds the decisions taken concerning an energy policy for Europe” but says the new policy “should also acknowledge the needs of enterprises, in particular SMEs”.

“Much more needs to be done in terms of raising awareness among smaller companies about energy efficiency, and forecasting their future needs and costs,” says Eurochambres.

The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) welcomed the summit’s reference to a 15% target for renewable energies in 2015 as “a cautious step in the right direction” but noted that it “does not constitute a long-term commitment”. “Long-term targets are important for the European wind energy sector because they would provide a strong signal of commitment to investors and encourage them to commit risk capital while enabling a stable technology development and cost reductions,” says EWEA. 

EuropaBio, the association of the European biotech industry, welcomed the suggestion made by EU heads of states to increase the share of biofuels to 8% by 2015. “EuropaBio advocates the use of biomass as a renewable energy source” as a way to unlock “the under-used resources of agricultural and forestry waste”. EuropaBio points out that “creating an EU market for biofuels offers an opportunity to develop alternative farm incomes” with local producers contributing to increasing Europe’s energy self-sufficiency.

WWF, the global conservation organisation, welcomed the summit’s endorsement of a new energy policy for Europe but highlighted “the need to establish a level playing field among all actors on the market”.  

“True liberalisation with transparent prices, together with a harmonised and independent power grid will enable renewable energies and more efficient energy to enter the supply chain,” says Stephan Singer, Head of the Climate and Energy Unit at WWF.

The WWF also points to subsidies for fossil fuels, which it estimates at 24bn euros per year in the EU-15 alone. “If only a fraction of these sums would be reinvested in energy efficiency and renewable energies, the EU would easily be able to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 and lead the world in the fight against climate change,” says Singer.

Mahi Sideridou, EU climate and energy policy director at Greenpeace in Brussels, was encouraged by the summit’s outcome, saying “It is a welcome day when EU leaders recognise that a future without renewable energy is no future at all.” She called on the Commission to follow suit on summit suggestions by tabling concrete proposals for long-term renewable energy targets as soon as possible.

In the European Parliament, most political groups adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude. 

The Chairman of the centre-right EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, Hans Gert Poettering MEP (Germany), described the outcome of the summit as generally positive but said “one had yet to wait [and see] whether political actions would follow these declarations, leading to concrete results.”

Liberal-Democrat leader Graham Watson (ALDE, UK), said that the summit conclusions “if fully implemented, represent a reasonable response to the current challenges to our economy and energy needs”. But he added that the relatively positive result was “made possible only by avoiding the more controversial, though necessary, debate on the recent resurgence of economic nationalism”.

“Member States are their own worst enemies once they leave Brussels and return to their national capitals,” said Watson.

The Greens/EFA group was more critical, describing the summit’s conclusions on energy policy as “a fudge”. “The summit has completely avoided the current energy market mess. All the benefits from the supposed liberalisation of gas and electricity markets are going to the pockets of a handful of energy companies and their shareholders,” said Claude Turmes MEP (Luxembourg). On a more positive note, Turmes welcomed the summit’s acknowledgement of the need for longer-term commitment on renewable energies and its call for a 20% rise in energy efficiency. “We […] hope that the Commission and the Member States will match the rhetoric with real action,” Turmes said.

The Spring European Council on 24 March endorsed a new 'Energy Policy for Europe' focusing on three objectives: supply security, economic competitiveness and environmental sustainability (EURACTIV, 24 March 2006). The summit discussions were based on Commission suggestions presented in a Green Paper on 8 March (EURACTIV, 9 March 2006) and on input from EU energy ministers a week later (EURACTIV, 15 March 2006).

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