Support for EU energy policy waning, poll shows

Most Europeans prefer decisions on energy issues taken at national or local level, according to an opinion survey published just weeks ahead of major new Commission proposals.

42% of EU citizens polled in March-April 2006 believe that national governments are better at dealing with energy challenges such as rising oil prices, according to a Eurobarometer survey published on Tuesday (19 December). 12% said that the local level is best suited, while 7% said that they did not know.

In contrast, the EU decision-making level was preferred by only 39% of respondents, a clear drop from the 47% favourable opinions registered in autumn 2005.

“There seems to be a slight shift from European level to national and local level as the preferred level for energy decision-making,” stated the Commission’s Communication department, which conducted the study.

“Citizens may think that when fast and effective decisions need to be taken, the authorities who are closest to citizens are usually the most efficient.”

The trend is even more apparent when looking at individual countries. Citizens in only four member states (Netherlands -55%-; Italy -55%-; Denmark -52%- and Belgium -50%-) show a clear preference for  the EU as the most appropriate decision-making level on energy issues. 

Even more worrying for the Commission, support is declining in all countries except Denmark (+7 percentage points). The Commission, however, is quick to temper the results of the opinion poll. “The majority of Dutch, Italian, Danish, Belgian, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese citizens still consider that the European level is the most appropriate,” it said.

The survey comes as bad news for the Commission as it prepares to unveil an ambitious ‘energy package’ on 10 January 2007. The package will include new proposals on coal, renewable energies and nuclear as well as a long-awaited report on competition in the gas and electricity sector. A new paper analysing the costs and benefits of climate policies after 2012 is set for publication on the same day.

Other highlights of the survey:

  • Renewable energies: 59% say they are not prepared to pay more for ‘green energy’, with opposition even rising slightly from the 54% registered in autumn 2005, and;
  • energy efficiency: 49% (up from 43% in autumn 2005) say that public authorities should provide more information on how to make more efficient use of energy. Tax incentives are supported by 40% of the population surveyed.

In its conclusions, the Commission states: "In general, European citizens appear to be more reluctant either to change their consumption habits or make financial sacrifices in order to save energy compared with the results obtained five months earlier. This could be explained by the continuous rise of energy and petrol prices during spring 2006."

Eurobarometer surveys were launched by the Commission in 1974 to serve as a tool in shaping a true 'European' public sphere. Poll results are usually published ahead of major new Commission initiatives to support policies that may otherwise find little backing in EU capitals.

  • 10 January 2007: Commission to present 'energy package'

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