23rd Aug 2019

EU states losing appetite for big energy commitments

  • EU states are hesitating to commit to a 20 percent share of renewables in the EU's energy mix (Photo: European Community, 2006)

With only two weeks to go before an energy meeting, to be held by EU economy ministers (14-15 February), member states are losing their appetite to abide by targets tabled in the European Commission's energy package last month.

Brussels' push for renewable energy to yield 20 percent of EU consumption and for biofuels to account for a minimum 10 percent of EU transport fuel consumption by 2020, is being challenged by several EU capitals that prefer to drop the word "binding" in it.

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"We are firmly behind the main obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020," sources say, but added they need their hands untied to decide how to fulfil that goal.

Diplomats confirmed to EUobserver that France, the UK and Slovakia are among those pushing for greater flexibility, while for example Denmark only opposes the obligatory sub-target created for biofuels.

"Each member state should be free to define its own energy mix," one diplomat said, underlining that "room to manoeuvre varies due to different national circumstances, possibilities and starting points."

At the same time, the "sustainability" of biofuels is being questioned due to "deforestation and commercial viability" according to some diplomats.

The European Commission refused to comment on any debate behind closed doors, as it has not resulted in an official proposal yet. However, Brussels' executive body confirmed that it would stick to its ambitious January plan.

Renewable energy "fights climate change, decreases external energy dependency and creates new jobs," a commission spokesperson told EUobserver, while stressing that the related targets "should remain binding" in order to fulfil them.

Adding nuclear energy to the mix

Some EU governments argue that green energy is not the only option for addressing global climate change, with France and Slovakia demanding "an explicit recognition of nuclear energy being a strong instrument for reducing CO2 emissions" to be included in the draft conclusions.

A draft text prepared by the German EU presidency - seen by EUobserver – underlines "full respect of member states' choice of energy mix and sovereignty over primary energy sources" but it stops short of mentioning nuclear energy as such.

According to sources, the bulk of opposition against France's pro-nuclear line comes from Austria, Ireland, Greece and Portugal, who instead prefer to downplay the role of nuclear power plants in the text.

Unbundling battle

In a similar fashion, a two-camp battle is under way over the European Commission's unbundling initiative, which suggests EU energy giants should be broken up into smaller pieces after 2009.

The UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Portugal, Hungary and Romania like the idea, arguing that an effective separation of supply and production activities from network operations could pave the way to more competition and better prices.

On the other hand, France, Poland, Spain and Slovakia are seen as the most reluctant, as they consider current legislation sufficient.

Another round of talks among 27 national experts debating all sticky points is scheduled for Friday (2 February).

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