Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

Estonia's last chance to land green energy results

  • Solar panels in Germany, where such 'solar farms' are a common sight (Photo: Andreas Gücklhorn)

EU energy ministers meet on Monday (18 December) to find a common position on no less than four different legislative files that are part of the 'Energy Union' package, proposed by the commission thirteen months ago.

They will discuss targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and two legal acts governing the electricity market at the final ministerial meeting in the Council of the EU in Brussels of the year.

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Once the ministers have their common positions, they have to start negotiations with the European Parliament on the final version of the bills.

Briefing journalists last week, a senior Estonian official said on condition of anonymity they were "four very complex files", which each contain "two or three" politically-sensitive angles.

"To manage it all in a one day debate is really going to be a challenge," the Estonian said – Estonia as the outgoing holder of the six-month EU presidency, will chair the meeting. Bulgaria takes over the six-month rotating slot in January.

But he added it would also force ministers to focus on what is really important.

One key issue are the details around increasing the share of energy from renewable sources.

EU leaders agreed at a summit in October 2014 that by 2030, at least 27 percent of the EU's energy should be renewable, derived from for example solar panels or wind turbines.

The leaders decided that the target would be "binding on an EU level", but decided against national binding targets.

(Photo: European Union)

Some fear that this lack of national goals will lead to freeriders.

"What do we do to prevent a certain number of governments to pledge so low that others have to deliver more, or that in overall we are not able to deliver our binding renewable target?", said Green MEP Claude Turmes at a meeting with journalists recently.

Turmes, a Luxembourgian, is following one of the energy files for the parliament.

The interaction between the various proposed bills is complicated, with the renewable energy targets in one bill, but reporting and monitoring of the progress in another.

All of it is related to the 2015 climate agreement achieved in Paris, which aims at limiting potentially destructive climate change.

EU leaders said at their summit last week that they "strongly" reaffirmed the EU's commitment to 'Paris', and that they were committed to adopt the pending legislative proposals.

But according to environmentalist lobby group WWF, what is currently on the table is not enough to reach those Paris goals.

"To bring Europe in line with the Paris Agreement, the EU needs a 45% renewables target with binding national targets for 2030," WWF said on Friday.

Targets or milestones?

The EU's previous climate targets, for 2020, included nationally-binding renewable energy targets for each member state.

But national targets are politically not feasible, according to a second Estonian diplomat.

Referring to a proposed compromise text, he said that Estonia planned to introduce 'milestones'.

"If these milestones are not met by the EU we have provisions to go after the member states. These provisions are not that specific that it would bring back the binding national targets, because we can't do that," he admitted.

Missing the milestones could then lead to peer pressure, but it was unclear how binding these milestones were.

The diplomat said he didn't want to "go there", saying he was "not allowed to use these words, binding, non-binding".

Politically, the Estonians are likely to want to achieve a deal before the end of their six-month EU presidency.

They were unable to bridge the divides between the council and EU parliament in another climate file, discussed last week.

That legislative proposal dealt with greenhouse gas reduction targets for sectors like agriculture, buildings, and transport.

"Despite constructive preparations with the Estonian EU presidency and 10 hours of talks, we failed to reach an agreement," said Dutch Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy last week.

"The parliament's and council's positions remained too far removed from each other."

Monday's ministerial meeting will start at 9:30am and, in a signal that talks could be lengthy, the press conference is announced for merely "at the end of the meeting".

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