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EU: Energy Council

Volume 687: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2006

My honourable friend the Minister of State (Malcolm Wicks) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Lord Truscott represented the UK at the Energy Council in Brussels on 23 November. Discussion focused on the Commission's recent Energy Efficiency Action Plan and on renewable energy.

Informal discussion over dinner, on the eve of the council, reinforced the unanimous view that energy mix was a matter of subsidiarity. Views on an appropriate overall CO2 reduction target were mixed, with two member states particularly cautious. Lord Truscott underlined the UK's emphasis on the broader climate challenge that ambitious action on energy efficiency could help meet.

In the council itself, Commissioner Piebalgs presented the Energy Efficiency Action Plan as a key element in the battle against climate change, with the aim of achieving 20 per cent savings in energy use by 2020. Priority areas include product standards, labelling and education, buildings and transport, added generation efficiency and directing more structural funds towards energy efficiency. He added that transport had huge potential—the 120g/km CO2 target for vehicle emissions, while not mentioned in the conclusions, remained valid. What was needed now was ambitious and effective action. The council adopted conclusions on the action plan (15210/06) after one member state registered its preference for binding targets.

In the policy debate that followed, all member states supported the action plan, with significant support for the more focused priorities that offered the most added value in the conclusions. Many member states emphasised the importance of education and the need to give member states maximum flexibility to address their national situation, to engage industry, financial institutions and the public sector at all levels and to mobilise community funding opportunities. New member states particularly, focused on access to funding. Two major member states supported market mechanisms, one arguing for legislation on transport efficiency and for an EU-wide “white certificates” system.

On renewables, while many reinforced that energy mix was for member states to decide, most supported a general 20 per cent target of renewables by 2020. Only two member states wanted this to be binding; several wanted this to be at EU level only, with differentiated targets for member states. Most wanted flexibility for member states to use the most competitive technologies. Use of market mechanisms, particularly the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the need for a sustainable and predictable framework were also mentioned.

On the international dimension, there was considerable support for an international framework agreement on energy efficiency (IFAEE). All supported more EU leadership and effort internationally; international organisations or bilateral dialogues, particularly with the US and China; and research and technology transfer, especially with emerging and developing countries. In response, the Commission agreed with the points made on energy efficiency, emphasising the need for leadership both within the EU by the public sector and by the EU internationally. The Commission would call a meeting to discuss an IFAEE in January. On renewables, it would look at some of the new ideas but continued to believe that a well justified mandatory target was appropriate.

The presidency and Commission summarised progress on a range of international dossiers including Russia where, despite lack of agreement on the post-partnership and co-operation agreement mandate, the presidency would rearrange the Energy Permanent Partnership Council for before the end of next month. The Commission said it would continue with a robust approach to the range of energy discussions with Russia, based on the principles of the Energy Charter Treaty.

The Commission also noted that the creation of the proposed energy security correspondents’ network should be agreed by council conclusions before the end of the year. Commissioner Piebalgs emphasised it would be a light structure, involving no duplication and would operate on an entirely voluntary basis. Member states were invited to nominate two members.

Responding to a request from one member state, the Commission confirmed it would consult on the new environmental state aid guidelines early in 2007.