MEPs voted on Tuesday (28 November) in favour of increasing efficiency and renewable energy targets, in a decisive morning for EU energy and climate policy that provoked both jubilation and disappointment.
All eyes were on the European Parliament’s industry and energy committee (ITRE) for two votes on crucial directives that form part of the European Commission’s Clean Energy for All Europeans package of legislation, tabled a year ago.
At the conclusion of a nail-biting session, MEPs finally supported a 40% efficiency goal and national targets for 2030 by only one vote (33 votes in favour and 32 against). Both targets will be legally binding.
The vote on the energy efficiency directive followed a rollercoaster campaign, which saw lead rapporteur Adam Gierek accused of straying from the line of his own political group, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
At the end of the day, the industry committee vote mirrored previous resolutions issued by the Parliament, as well as the environment committee’s non-binding opinion, adopted in September.
Environmental groups welcomed the result, after an unusually bitter lead-up which saw heated words exchanged with Markus Pieper, the lawmaker shadowing the file for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).
The German MEP alleged that other political groups had helped spread “fake news” and denounced the S&D group for falling prey to a “utopian” idea of energy efficiency. Pieper had also courted the support of the far-right Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group, in an attempt to derail the S&D’s proposals, meaning the final outcome was far from clear.
The S&D ultimately succeeded in defeating the EPP-helmed amendments, which supported a 30% non-binding target.
Committee Chair Jerzy Buzek (EPP) frequently had to resort to checking the vote electronically, as MEPs showed how split they were on which direction energy efficiency should go in.
German S&D lawmaker Martina Werner hailed it as “a great political victory after a fierce battle between the political groups”.
She also added to the criticism levied against the EPP, claiming “We had to face serious attempts [from the EPP] to water down the EED. Even the Commission acknowledged that their amendments, for example on the annual savings rate, would amount to 0%, for the period 2021-2030. This is not acceptable.”
The European Council has already agreed on its so-called general approach on the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), so the stage is now set for the three institutions to gather behind closed doors in trialogue to agree on one joint position, once the adopted report has got the green light from a full plenary session.
The vote on the energy efficiency directive was preceded by a vote on the renewable energy directive. Rapporteur José Blanco López (S&D) was happy after his report was backed 43 in favour and only 14 against.
But the report has already been labelled a “missed opportunity” for EU climate policy, as MEPs supported increasing the Commission’s proposed 27% target to 35% without imposing binding national targets.
Green lawmakers had criticised the compromise deal, insisting that 35% was “the strict minimum” required for the EU to meet its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Blanco López acknowledged that he would have preferred to stick with his own proposal, which originally called for 40% and binding national targets, but explained that the nature of lawmaking in Parliament meant a compromise had to be made.
A 10% ‘flexibility’ margin, included in the compromise amendments, also passed. This means that member states will be able to fall short of their targets in “exceptional and duly justified circumstances”.
WWF Europe’s renewable energy expert, Alex Mason, denounced the proposal as “toothless” and claimed that the inclusion of the flexibility margin showed investors that “the EU is scaling back on renewable energy”.
But Blanco López tweeted after the vote that the adopted report “reinforces legal certainty for investment by preventing retroactive changes” and encourages small-scale forays into renewables by simplifying administrative procedures for projects up to 1MW.
— José Blanco (@pepeblancoEP) November 28, 2017
ITRE’s adoption of the report comes shortly after Commission energy boss Maroš Šefčovič admitted that a sharp decline in renewable energy price meant that a 30% target was now “affordable”. This could strengthen the Parliament’s hand when it comes to trilateral talks next year.
EU member states have yet to finalise their own joint position in the EU Council of Ministers but a meeting is earmarked for 18 December to try and iron out differences. Once it has agreed on a general approach, the file will be able to move into trialogue talks with the European Commission and Parliament.
The Commission has previously stated that it hopes both the energy efficiency and renewable energy directives will become law early next year.