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15th Dec 2019

Russia angst sees EU energy efficiency targets watered down

  • EU leaders will have to decide if the 30 percent target will be binding (Photo: eastpole)

The EU commission on Wednesday (23 July) tabled a plan to increase the bloc's overall energy efficiency, but had to water it down amid fears of Russian gas supplies being cut in the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

Under the plan, the commission leaves it up to EU leaders to decide if it should be binding or not to increase energy efficiency by 30 percent by 2030, compared to 2007 levels. In previous drafts, the commission had toyed with the idea of a binding target of up to 40 percent.

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Speaking to journalists on Wednesday after a lengthy meeting of all 28 EU commissioners, energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the planned target is "ambitious" and that it has a "good chance" of being approved by member states. A first discussion on it will take place at the 23-24 October summit.

Oettinger denied that the target was watered down.

But in one of the latest drafts, it was as low as 27 percent. Incoming EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's push to have a binding target of at least 30 percent helped a handful of commissioners who were pressing for a more ambitious target to get the 30 percent agreed.

Oettinger spoke of three groups of countries with differing positions on the file.

One group he referred to - without naming the countries - supported three binding targets: for energy efficiency, green house gas emissions, and renewable energy.

This group is said to comprise France, Germany and the Nordic states, whose commissioners also represented their government's line on this.

The second group mentioned by Oettinger contains those who "want less Europe, less Brussels, and where the EU elections have strengthened this position" - a reference to Great Britain.

The third group wanted just greenhouse emission targets, saying this is enough and that energy efficiency would contribute to the same goal.

This includes, according to an EU source, countries most dependent on Russian gas imports - notably Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Baltic states. They "paradoxically" opposed the energy efficiency target even as they try to cut down their own dependence.

The reasoning behind their stance is that if Russia cuts gas supplies and the EU imposes binding energy efficiency targets, countries will have to foot the bill for not meeting those targets, on top of investments needed to make buildings, cars and appliances less energy-consuming.

Oettinger admitted that investments "in the higher range of two-figure billions" of euro were needed to meet this target. He said there will be "resistance" from industries that will have to implement labelling and eco-design.

As for the EU countries dependent on EU gas and electricity, Oettinger said that a "co-ordination group" is meeting regularly to try to get gas storages filled to maximum capacity.

"We want de-escalation, we want an agreement in the gas price dispute [between Russia and Ukraine]," he said.

Planned sanctions against Russia, currently being worked out by the EU commission "should not include oil, gas, coal and uranium imports," he said.

But he added that drilling technology and other high-tech devices needed for the Russian offshore fields exploration might be put under an embargo "to show them that if they are not contributing to peace in Ukraine, we have no reason to facilitate their energy sector development".

EU foreign ministers on Tuesday agreed to expand the sanctions regime to energy technologies, dual-use items, defence exports and financial transactions if Russia does not co-operate with MH17 investigators and keeps arming the Ukrainian rebels that shot down a civilian plane in which over 200 EU citizens died.

On Wednesday, two more planes were shot down, this time Ukrainian fighter jets. According to AFP, the missiles were fired from Russian territory.

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