The debate on whether the EU should have an energy policy to guarantee security of supply and tackle climate change was renewed this week in Parliament. A press conference by Europe's energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Giles Chichester, Chair of Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy committee was an opportunity to gauge reaction to the Commission's recent proposals on energy. They call for a "new industrial revolution" and for renewable energy to account for 20% of all usage by 2020.
They also call for improvements in energy efficiency by 20% and increasing the use of bio-fuels by 10% over the same period. Another practical step would be a dramatic increase in energy research of 50% over the next 7 years during the current EU budgetary cycle. This move could increase the practicality of low carbon technology.
The aim is a 30% cut (compared to 1990) in greenhouse gas emissions during this period. The reason that 2020 is set as a benchmark date is that after that the international community will enter the post-Kyoto protocol era and must start making plans now.
EU must "speak with one voice"
Politically it calls for the EU to "speak with one voice" when dealing with third countries and form relations with them based on "transparency, predictability and reciprocity". Many have interpreted this as a coded reference to the gas disputes that have flared between Russian and neighbouring countries this month and in January 2006.
Last December MEPs passed a resolution based on a consultative Green Paper the Commission had written on energy policy. Whether these latest proposals satisfy those aims is an open question. The resolution by Parliament called for renewable energy to go up by 25% and for a reduction in the EU's dependence on petroleum products - the EU's most important primary energy source and one where it imports almost all its supplies.
At the press conference there were several informal reactions. British Labour MEP Eluned Morgan, author of a report on energy policy, called the proposals "not a big revolution" and echoed others who said they "lacked ambition". This was mainly of the opinion of Green MEPs on the Committee. For the Liberals Fiona Hall criticised the "lack of targets" in individual sectors.
Neutrality on Nuclear brings mixed response
On the issue of nuclear energy the Commission was decidedly neutral. This brought the approval of some MEPs although Chairman of the Committee Giles Chichester said "the absence of the European opinion on the nuclear energy is one of the biggest failures of the package, - it demonstrates the lack of positive signal".
This debate is certain to build in momentum as we draw nearer to the Spring European Council under the German Presidency where a Common Energy Policy will be a key point when EU leaders meet.
Commissioner Pielbalgs has indicated that if a consensus among MEPs and within the Council of Ministers on energy and climate change emerges, the European Commission will present to both institutions concrete legislative proposals (regulations and directives) in the future.