The “Winter Package” of the European Commission
At the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 the EU undertook to reduce its CO2 emissions by 40% before 2030. To achieve this goal, in June 2016 the European Commission expanded the application of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) to include sectors not currently within the ETS. Further promises have been made to improve energy efficiency by 30% and to increase the proportion of renewables to at least 27% of the overall energy basket.
With regard to energy efficiency the Commission intends with its new proposal to augment existing measures requiring energy suppliers and distributors to increase energy efficiency savings by at least 1.5% per year. In addition, the Commission will introduce measures requiring existing and new buildings to be more energy efficient. Through a mix of regulation and the promotion of renovation and eco-design, the Commission aims to address the situation in which an estimated 75% of the current building stock is considered to be “energy inefficient”. Further proposals concern low emission transport systems.
Growth of renewable energy depends mostly on innovative technologies and opportunities to reach the market through public support. Although the 27% renewables target is binding at a European level, the Commission does not propose binding goals at the national level. Nevertheless it is hoped that revisions to the Renewable Energy Directive will provide a clear European wide framework for subsidizing renewables. In addition, major investments to the electricity grid are anticipated. These will assist the development of renewable energy, which depends on a well-interconnected European grid network.
The Commission intends to implement measures to make the European electricity market more transparent. Recent reports suggest that whilst gas and oil prices have decreased by 50% and 60% since 2013, household energy costs have risen slightly in the same period. The Commission wants to give consumers greater control over energy choices and provide easier access to smart technologies for controlling and reducing consumption. It is also hoped to make it less complicated for an energy consumer to become a small energy producer.
In relation to energy poverty, the Commission seeks to respond to the increasing difficulty many households experience in paying fuel bills. In 2014 the average energy bill made up 9% of the budget of the lowest-income households. This corresponds to a 50% increase as compared to ten years ago. The Commission therefore asks Member States to take action against energy poverty and increase initiatives to renovate low-income housing.
The new legislative proposal, baptized the “winter package” consists of 1000 pages and is indeed impressive. In many ways it respond to Pope Francis’ call for the ‘gradual framing and acceptance of binding commitments’ to accompany policies designed to combat climate change, and his emphasis on measures to improve energy conservation (Laudato Si’, §180). However, the Winter Package is not likely to enjoy a smooth ride through the European institutions.
Environmental groups have already criticized the Commission’s proposals as being too market friendly. Individual Member States and the European Parliament, who will now debate and negotiate the whole package, have diverging visions, especially concerning the energy efficiency target. The package is also weakened by its failure to address issues regarding the energy mix, especially the part played by nuclear energy, a question which remains within the discretion of individual Member States. Members will also continue to negotiate their energy imports with non EU-states.
These questions regarding energy mix and importation are obstacles to a comprehensive common EU energy policy that addresses climate change as well as energy security and solidarity.
EN The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Office.