The highlight in Brussels this week is certainly the EU Council of tomorrow, Thursday 23 October. The reason is not because it will be the last one presided by Mr Van Rompuy, but because the major topic to be discussed in the agenda is the EU climate targets 2030. It has been 10 months that the 2030 framework for energy and climate has be presented and our EU leaders had agreed that they would finally make up their minds at this Council this week.
The EU 2030 framework
There are three main pillars of this EU project:
– Reduction by 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990, by 2030
– Increase the usage of renewable energy in the Union to at least 27%
– Increase energy efficiency in the EU by 30%
To maintain the leading Green position that the EU has in the world, the targets need to be met by all member states. Despite the criticism that these goals have received by environment and energy specialists as not high enough, for some member states these goals allegedly threaten the industry and stability in investment. The topic is not an easy one. Especially for an EU that is largely dependent on energy import from Russia, which makes it vulnerable and unable to define its own energy path. The Ukraine crisis has made the whole matter bigger currently as the energy future for the old continent is at stake.
The fragmented “Energy Union”
It was never easy for 28 member states to gather and agree on a common policy practice. Especially on a topic like energy policy that touches the core of the industry interests as well as major political interests. While it is a similar case for various topics in the policy agenda of Europe, energy policy changes are weighted a bit more, and not without a reason. The slightest change at the ETS system (EU Emissions Trade System), can have big effects on the biggest European industrial power hubs like Stuttgart, Flanders or Lombardia. And this is enough on its own to raise objections in Brussels.
But it seems here that this time many members are protecting their national interests against the environmental interests of the globe. Poland, a country that is relying heavily on its coal and mining industry, is against those ‘ambitious’ environmental targets. Last week the deputy prime minister of Poland, Janusz Piechocinski, clearly stated on the Polish radio: “If it is the initial [EU] proposal in its current shape, then Poland will have no choice and will have to veto it”.
More criticism on the 2030 framework has come from Czech Republic. Seeing all this scepticism Mrs Merkel commented last week that she sees unlikely the member states come to an agreement tomorrow and the day after in Brussels. Further, the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, eliminated the probabilities of successful agreement tomorrow to 0!
The energy sector in Europe is certainly fragmented and this is perhaps the greatest challenge, as usual, to contemplate with. Somehow every government tries to protect its interests, especially in times of economic distress that Europe is facing currently, when every job creation or loss counts dearly politically. Let’s not forget here about the example of renewable energy, where France is blocking the substantial solar energy produced in Spain from being imported to the Hexagone, in order to protect its own strong nuclear energy production.
The Energy Union is the second biggest priority for the new President of the European Commission, Mr Juncker. This shows its importance but also the time pressure in the policy agenda to make progress in this matter. The agreement on the framework for environment and energy policies, to be decided at the end of the week, is certainly an important first step towards an Energy Union, which anyway is not expected to be formed in one night.
It seems though that 10 months since the initial publication of the 2030 framework for energy and climate change is not enough time to come to an agreement or compromise. Some describe already the targets of the framework too moderate. Some others, like the prime minister of Poland, think that the aims are exaggerated. The stakes are too high however and there needs to be some compromise from the member states in order to find a solution promptly. If we fail in 2030, we will fail in 2050 and then it might be too late to turn the ship.
The truth is that if the ETS (EU Emissions Trade System) does not become effective, fair and robust fast, together with steady policies and incentives for renewable energy, then Europe can lose its leading position as a Green global champion. The clock is ticking and it is time for tough decisions.
We hope the EU leaders will look farther than their national borders this Thursday and Friday in Brussels.