• Just 12 percent of citizens say the EU should develop nuclear power options (Photo: Luxembourg EU Presidency)

French EU energy blueprint wins friends

24.01.06 @ 17:44

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Future EU energy policy could be based on boosting nuclear power and oil and gas stocks as well as research into new fuels in line with a French blueprint, but most EU citizens don't want nuclear power a new Eurobarometer survey shows.

Paris presented the plan to EU energy ministers in Brussels on Tuesday (24 January) with energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs saying "It's very much in line with what we are thinking about" for the commission's March green paper.

He advised other countries to draft plans similar to the French ideas, adding "I didn't see anything that is not acceptable" in Paris' proposals.

The French text calls for the EU to "consider the contribution of nuclear power to the security of supply and the fight against climate change" while urging Brussels to seek better relations with major oil and gas producers such as Russia and the Middle East oil cartel, OPEC.

The text also advises the EU to coordinate information on national oil reserves and to diversify gas supply routes while leaving ultimate control of energy resources in the hands of member states.

But the bulk of the paper lists detailed ideas on how Europe can cut energy consumption in transport and industry while spending more on research into solar and wind power as well as biofuels.

People want clean energy at no extra cost

The French proposals strike a jarring note with European public opinion however, with just 12 percent of people saying the EU should develop nuclear power options in a Eurobarometer survey out the same day.

In France, the pro-nuclear figure was just 8 percent, while most respondents across Europe said they would prefer Europe to push for more solar and wind power and to spend cash on research into new fuels instead.

On average 47 percent believed energy action should be taken at EU level, but most people in the UK and Finland thought their own governments could handle the problems best.

A majority said they are conscious of energy issues when buying light bulbs, cars and fridges and plan to reduce consumption, but over 50 percent stated they are unwilling to pay more for new fuel types.

Mr Piebalgs admitted that public opinion has limited value in expert level planning, saying "one opinion poll does not shape all our policy."

European weaknesses

The energy commissioner stressed that the EU is "very vulnerable" to supply crunches in the gas sector, saying that not just Russia but also major European suppliers Algeria and Norway could one day cut deliveries due to political or environmental problems.

But he was defiant on Iran's threats to cut oil supplies to world markets if the EU and US pursue sanctions against its nuclear programme via the UN Security Council.

"If there would be disruption of supply, the IEA [International Energy Agency] would call for the release of energy reserves as in the reaction to Hurricane Katrina last year," he indicated.

IEA oil analyst Lawrence Eagles told EUobserver that OECD countries currently hold 1.5 billion barrels of oil in reserve compared to Iran's daily output of 2.6 million barrels.

The energy commissioner also stated that, while energy policy is shooting up the commission's foreign policy agenda, it will not threaten other objectives on human rights.

"I don't believe it [energy policy] is made on a compromise basis but on additional basis," he said.

Eastern European diplomats painted a starker picture of reality however, saying it is "obvious" that if it comes to choosing between human rights and access to natural resources in EU-Russia relations, the "business is business" mentality kicks in every time.