‘Tough talks’ likely after MEPs back binding efficiency goals

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The European Parliament's environment committee has thrown its weight behind binding energy efficiency targets for member states in a vote held yesterday (20 December). However, there it little chance that these will survive in later versions of the draft energy efficiency directive, EURACTIV was told.

The report amended by the Parliament's environment committee sets out a binding energy savings target of 20% for EU countries as a whole.

But this amendment might not pass a subsequent vote in the industry committee in January as MEPs are deeply divided over whether to set binding targets that give countries the option on how to achieve them, or legally binding measures.

Czech MEP Pavel Poc, who follows the directive for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), said his group would support the binding target and that “hopefully it will pass”. “As I follow discussions behind the scene, political groups in [industry committee] have very different positions on the directive, so I do not dare to guess,” Poc told EURACTIV.

“It should be without doubt that we must achieve the target,” said MEP Peter Liese (European People's Party, Germany), the rapporteur for the environment committee on the bill, adding that what is important is the absolute reduction of energy consumption.

Binding measures or binding targets?

But divisions persist on how to achieve those targets.

“The idea of the directive is to propose binding measures and not binding targets," said Bendt Bendtsen, a Danish conservative MEP (European People's Party). "I support the logic that you do one or the other. Some people want binding measures and binding targets, and some want none of the two,” he told EURACTIV.

British MEP Fiona Hall (Liberal-Democrats) said “it is well desirable to give member states more flexibility," something which rules out prescriptive binding measures. 

Brook Riley, of Friends of the Earth Europe, said some MEPs are now considering replacing the 20% energy savings target with a 20% improvement in energy intensity. This would mean total energy consumption could continue growing with economic activity, but at a lower rate.

“That is bad, it is completely contrary to the goals of the energy efficiency directive,” Riley said.

Financing the ambitions

A majority of EU countries seem to like the idea of a facility that would fund investments on energy efficiency, but they want this to remain optional, EURACTIV has learned.

In his draft report for the Parliament's industry committee, MEP Claude Turmes (Greens, Luxembourg), the lead negotiator for the European Parliament, says member states "shall" implement financial facilities. 

However, this is proving too prescriptive for some. “There is a lot of support to replace ‘shall’ with ‘may’,” Riley said.

Yesterday’s positive vote in the environment committee could, however, speed up the process of decision at member-state level, so that they at least decide what their positions are, EU experts said.

“That report provided a good hook and will reaffirm that the Parliament is generally in favour of the directive,” said Samuel Flückiger of the European Climate Foundation. Indeed, most of the signatories of yesterday’s opinion report are members of the European People’s Party, which is the most divided of all political groups on whether to make efficiency measures legally binding.

Still, some fear that “it might take 2-3 years before a decision is made”, judging by how long it took to implement this directive’s predecessor, the Energy Services Directive.

Member states want flexibility

Liese said most countries are asking: “How can we dilute the Commission proposal? We have made it more flexible, but at the same time we are not willing to lower the ambition.”

Germany already has a government-approved strategy for the energy sector until 2050, the "Energy Concept", which envisages savings of up to 90%. But there is still debate on how to implement the strategy, explaining the confusion around Germany’s position on the energy efficiency directive, EURACTIV understands.

In France, the government wants to be able to account for  existing savings obligations, so they will be weary of accepting different measures to the ones they already have, said an EU source.

The UK is also unlikely to accept “any binding measures coming from the EU right now,” because of the increasing eurosceptic sentiment at national level. 

MEP Claude Turmes, lead industry committee negotiator for the directive, is seen as “an ambitious negotiator” and so is the incoming Danish presidency, which has the cleanest environmental record in the EU.

“Will they manage to deliver? We will see,” an expert close to the negotiations told EURACTIV.

Peter Liese MEP (European People's Party, Germany), the rapporteur on the energy efficiency directive for the Parliament's environment committee, said: "With this vote, the members of Parliament gave a counterpoint to the discussions in the member states. The member states in the Council seem to have only one target: to dilute the Commission proposal".

Marita Ulvskog MEP, vice president of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), commented on the vote in the environment committee, saying: "We pushed hard for binding energy efficiency targets and the endorsement of the environment committee is an important success. A strong directive on energy efficiency will benefit the environment, will cut our foreign oil and gas dependency, will help construction companies adapt to sustainable and smart production, and create new jobs in the sector, and it will also help reduce the final bill for consumers."

"The current proposal lacks strong financial monitoring provisions that would also require reporting of the scheme costs by the energy provider, and the costs that are passed on to consumers through their energy bills. This means that it will not be possible to tell how cost-effective the scheme is, nor how much consumers are paying for it by way of their bills," the consumer watch organisation BEUC said in a statement.

Europe aims to reduce its primary energy use by 20% in 2020 “simply by applying cost-effective energy savings measures”.

The proposed Energy Efficiency Directive was unveiled by the Commission in summer 2011 to update the previous Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which had not been designed to create full energy savings. The 20% will not be reached, unless the EU doubles its energy savings efforts from the current projection of 9%.

The European Commission proposes individual measures for each of the sectors that could play a role in reducing energy consumption. 

  • 1 Jan. 2012: Denmark takes over presidency of the EU.
  • 28 Feb. 2012: Parliament committee on Industry, Reserach and Energy (ITRE) votes on the Energy Efficiency Directive.
  • Jan.-Feb. 2012: First discussions on the directive between member states.

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