Katainen warns against ‘insane’ push for energy efficiency

Jyrki Katainen [European Commission]

Jobs and Growth Commissioner Jyrki Katainen has insisted that the low-carbon transition and energy savings are needed if Europe’s economy is to be modernised. But he warned against pushing for “insane” efficiency targets and putting too much pressure on industry.

Speaking at a EURACTIV event last Friday (9 December), Katainen made a vibrant plea for energy efficiency and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The Energy Union is “probably the biggest single driver for investments in Europe for the years to come”, he told participants at the EURACTIV event, hosted in the European Parliament.

The European Commission unveiled proposals to slash the EU’s energy consumption by 30% by 2030 under a Winter Package of measures presented on 30 November.

The target is higher than the 27% EU leaders had previously agreed to in October 2014, which is also not binding.

But it came as a disappointment for energy efficiency advocates who were pushing for a 40% reduction in energy consumption following the UN agreement in Paris last year where world nations pledged to keep global warming below 2°C.

The European Parliament, which must ultimately agree an identical law with member states, has twice backed a 40% target.

“Nobody is putting obstacles” on further energy efficiency measures, Katainen replied when asked why the Commission did not push for a higher target.

“One thing we wanted to avoid is to put more pressure on industry,” he said. “We wanted it to be realistic”.

Commission defends new energy rules and climate ambition

The European Commission today (30 November) defended its 30% energy efficiency target, as opposed to the higher goal called for by MEPs and campaigners, as it unveiled “clean energy“ plans to boost renewable use, cut waste and reduce subsidies for coal power.

The EU Council of Ministers, representing the member states, has taken a more guarded stance than the Parliament and already watered down a Commission proposal to slash energy consumption by 30%, going instead for a 27% reduction.

EURACTIV asked Katainen why the Commission did not propose a 33% target so that EU member states could later water it down to 30%.

“There are two schools of thought,” Katainen replied. “One is to propose something that is insane in order to have a stronger negotiating position. And there is the other school – to which this Commission belongs – which is to do what we consider to be right.”

He argued that the executive had done a careful cost-benefit analysis of its proposal and added that “costs are higher” for European industry under a 40% scenario.

According to Katainen, the pressure now lies on the Parliament and Council “not to water down” the Commission’s 30% goal. “Because, as I said, we wanted to be realistic. So let’s hope everybody takes their responsibility,” he said.

More funding under Juncker fund

The Commission Vice-President also indicated that more funding for energy and climate-related projects will become available under the €315 billion European Fund for Strategic investment (EFSI), also known as the Juncker Plan.

Following the Paris Agreement, Katainen said the executive has now proposed that “at least 40% of the projects” in the EFSI should contribute to climate action.

Examples of new projects that will receive EFSI funding in the future include “nearly zero-emission” buildings, offshore wind farms in the North Sea (Belgium and the UK), as well as onshore wind farms in Austria, Sweden and Greece.

Biomass, biogas and waste-to-energy plants in Denmark and Lithuania will also receive funding, the Finnish Commissioner announced.

Commission sets up EU's next energy efficiency battle

The European Commission will announce increased EU energy efficiency targets on Wednesday (30 November). But it will face resistance from member states opposed to binding, more ambitious rules, and from the European Parliament, which has demanded much higher goals.

The European Commission unveiled a raft of new energy efficiency measures as part of a Winter Package of proposals presented on 30 November.

The proposals included a binding target so reduce the EU's energy by 30% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

Before it can become EU law, an identical goal must be agreed by both the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers representing the 28 EU member states.

MEPs have twice backed Parliament resolutions calling for a 40% target but member states have supported just 27%, suggesting tough negotiations ahead.

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