The Energy Efficiency Directive on a Tightrope

Bird on a Tight rope

License: Creative Commons; Credits: msuga

Our last post on the European debate on the energy efficiency directive dates back from 1st December 2011. Back then, we concluded that no clear picture had so far emerged in the European Parliament. Although progress has definitely been made behind the scenes, thepicture remains blurry and the prospects for a significant directive to emerge are bleak, very bleak.

The key: a divided European People’s Party (EPP)

In the complex sequence of events, since last December 1st, confusion has grown especially within the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament, without which a strong Parliament position will not be possible. MEPs in the Parliament’s Environment committee adopted an amendment to the directive that is to see carbon prices go up in order to avoid a further slump in carbon prices. The reasoning is that if carbon prices go down, investment in low-carbon technologies is neither incentivized nor rewarded.

Interestingly, the Environment committee’s amendment on carbon prices could replicate the feud that took place between DG Environment and DG Energy in the final stages of negotiation before the European Commission proposal was published. This time it is not Connie Hedegaard (Climate Action Commissioner) against Günther Öttinger (Energy Commission), but Peter Liese (EPP-Germany ENVI committee opinion rapporteur on the EED) against Markus Pieper (EPP-Germany ITRE committee shadow rapporteur).

The two EPP parliamentarians epitomize the gap within the EPP on energy efficiency, that the centre-right group’s leaders are currenlty working on bridging behind the scenes. This is very important indeed because Claude Turmes (Green – Luxemburg), the Parliament’s rapporteur on the directive, needs a large majority in order to prevent the Council from nipping the directive in the bud, which it has clearly vowed to do (see Euractiv’s well-informed article last week).

Claude Turmes, Green/EFA, rapporteur on energy efficiency directive

License: Creative Commons Credits: European Parliament

Open questions on the politics behind the Energy Efficiency Directive

One question is whether the rapporteur can do without the minority of EPP members (34 out of 263 that is 13%) who voted against the Bendtsen report last year on the Energy Efficiency Action Plan. Another question is the relative power of some EPP members hostile to the energy efficiency agenda in the ITRE committee, mainly Markus Pieper (shadow rapporteur), Herbert Reul (Chair of the ITRE committee) and Cristina Guttierez-Cortines (substitute in ITRE but active in the committee’s discussions). The last question is closely linked to the other 2 and relates to the general context of sustained economic crisis in many European countries, and how it affects the behaviour of EPP MEPs who mostly belong to parties currently in power in their Member States.

Claude Turmes is walking on a tightrope, because faced with vehement opposition in the Council, he cannot afford going to the negotiation table without a clear and unambiguous mandate from his institution. As he put it in a committee meeting the other day “if I’m going to play a game of strip poker with the Council, I want to make sure I don’t show up naked”.

A decisive month ahead

The discussions going on behind the scenes in the next fortnight will be vitally important, to find compromises on the thorniest issues on the Energy Efficiency directive: the legally binding nature of the 20% energy savings target, the legally binding 3% renovation target for public buildings, the scope of the energy savings obligation scheme for utilities and of course the issue of financing. The timetable laid out by Turmes is tight, since it aims at reaching an agreement on compromise amendments by 21 February 2012, for a vote of the report in the Parliament’s industry committee on 28 February 2012.

Coming soon: our analysis of the Danish presidency’s role on the energy efficiency directive


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