MEPs are divided over how far compulsion should play a role in achieving EU targets for energy efficiency, reflecting divisions among member states on the European Commission’s proposal for an energy efficiency directive.
One of the consequences is that a crucial vote in the European Parliament’s industry committee has been postponed until the end of February, because of the wide gulf between centre-right and centre-left MEPs.
At present, the target of a 20% energy efficiency improvement by 2020 is voluntary – unlike the compulsory targets that the Europe 2020 strategy set for carbon-dioxide emission reductions and for increased use of renewables.
In June, the Commission’s proposal for a directive aimed for a compromise that ducked an immediate binding target at EU level, but recommended some specific requirements at national level. These include achieving 1.5% energy savings by utilities and 3% savings through refurbishment programmes for public buildings. It also foresaw a review in 2014, with a binding EU target to be introduced if member-state progress is insufficient.
In initial discussions of the proposal, member states complained that making the specific targets binding would deprive them of the option of using the methods best suited to their national circumstances in order to achieve efficiencies. In response, Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, said that if there was a binding overall target, member states would have flexibility in how they achieved it.
In December, Oettinger indicated that the possibility of an overall binding target was still open. “In April or May we will have clarity on that, and then we can see what binding measures or binding targets the member states can accept,” he said.
There are signs that some member states may be warming to the idea of a binding overall target, in exchange for retaining flexibility in achieving it. They will discuss the issue on 14 February. Denmark, which has long supported an overall binding target, wants an agreement to be reached during its presidency of the Council of Ministers in the first half of this year.
In the industry committee, centre-left and Green MEPs favour a binding overall target. But more than 1,800 amendments have been submitted, and a vote has been delayed until late February because MEPs have been unable to agree on compromise amendments. In December, the Parliament’s environment committee backed the Commission’s wait-and-see approach on an EU target. But it called for binding national targets with flexibility in the measures used to achieve them.
MEPs who favour binding targets are trying to overcome the resistance in some member states by promoting the flexibility that those governments have themselves been calling for. They are hoping that a shift in member states’ attitudes will make it possible for the industry committee to vote in support of immediate imposition of a binding EU target.
But Peter Liese, a German centre-right MEP who is leading on the issue in the environment committee, is doubtful whether the industry committee will be able to deliver clear guidance for a vote of the whole Parliament.