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Council Of Ministers

Volume 957: debated on Tuesday 7 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the meeting of the EEC Council of Ministers (Energy) on 30th October.

The Council of Ministers (Energy) had a general discussion on the international energy relations of the Community with particular reference to co-operation with developing countries and on the energy situation in the Community. It also considered three specific proposals.The Council invited the Commission to draw up, in consultation with interested developing countries, inventories of their energy requirements, resources and instruments and to submit the results of these and other studies to a later meeting of the Council. It was made clear that the Commission should not duplicate the work of other international organisations in this field and that their studies should not be confined to countries which had signed the Lomé Convention. No funds beyond those already programmed will at this stage be made available for this work. In the general discussion of external relations I emphasised that there could be no restrictions on the freedom of member States to engage in their own international energy discussions, and indeed that bilateral contacts by them were to be encouraged.The general discussion of the Community energy situation showed wide agreement that the main contributions to achieving Community objectives in the energy field must come from the national programmes of member States, but that there was scope for some Community action to fill gaps in those programmes provided it was undertaken in a way which did not undermine the interests of member States. I endorsed this general approach whilst sounding a warning against any extensions of competence by the Commission and emphasising that the development of energy policy was primarily a matter for member Governments, co-ordinated through the Council.The Council approved a further round of projects under the scheme for Community projects in the hydrocarbon sector. United Kingdom companies should receive 31 per cent. of the funds of 39 meua allocated to these projects. The Council also approved a resolution taking note of the Commission's intention to organise an exchange of information on the problems of siting power stations in a group of representatives nominated by the member States. A reference in this resolution to Commission proposals for Community action in this field was deleted, without prejudice to the Commission's normal rights to put forward such proposals and the rights of member States to form their own views on them.The Council discussed the proposals that an expert working group should be set up to consider whether there were any projects to explore for hydrocarbons at great depth which might merit Community support. The United Kingdom doubts if such a scheme would be useful because the hydrocarbon industries are likely to develop economic projects. It is not our current intention to put forward projects in the United Kingdom or any areas where the United Kingdom regulates exploration. Nevertheless, we were ready to co-operate in the proposed working party provided it was made clear that its establishment was not a first step towards the extension of Community competence in hydrocarbon resources.I moved an amendment to the proposed terms of reference for the working party, so that the first paragraph would read as follows:

"to carry out a stocktaking of those objects of hydrocarbon exploration already put forward to the Council or which member States wish to put forward in respect of areas where they regulate exploration, on the clear understanding that the appointment of this working party does not involve the acceptance by the Council of any extension whatsoever of the competence—if any—of the Community as exercised by the Council or the Commission, in the exploration, development, depletion or utilisation or any other aspect of the control of the hydrocarbon resources areas where member States presently enjoy the responsibility for regulating these matters".

Although it was argued that there was no intention to extend Community competence in hydrocarbon resources, the Council was not able to reach agreement on my words which made the position clear beyond doubt. The question has, therefore, been referred back to the Committee of Permanent Representatives and our ambassador is awaiting instructions from the Government on this important issue.