The 499th plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was largely dedicated to discussions on EU energy and climate policies. In the presence of the Energy Commissioner, Mr Oettinger, Members voted on several energy-related opinions.
While the EESC broadly agrees with the Commission papers - including the 40% greenhouse gas reduction target and the 27% renewables share - it wants to go further. For instance, the Committee is calling for specific national renewable targets, as the situation and preconditions differ from country to country.
Solidarity between Member States is indispensable
"The balancing act is to achieve climate protection whilst also boosting Europe's economy and guaranteeing security and affordability of supply", summarised the rapporteur Ulla Sirkeinen, a member of group I (employers) from Finland. Turning to the challenges ahead, she stressed that, "we will only succeed if energy policy becomes truly European". "Truly European" means mandatory consultation, coordination and cooperation between Member States (MS) before far-reaching decisions are taken; and the creation of a genuine European Energy Community, which would help to increase energy security and reduce prime costs. Last but not least, the ultimate functioning of the internal energy market is crucial. The EESC again calls for solidarity within Europe as no single MS can meet the challenges ahead on its own.
Involving Civil Society in a European Energy Dialogue
Civil Society represents both producers and consumers and must be involved in the design of national energy plans. Engaging citizens, local councils and regional authorities in the production of renewable energy will unlock new economic and job resources and thus significantly enhance social acceptance of renewable energy projects. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are already playing a major role in inventing energy efficiency measures; likewise, many consumer groups are engaged in energy saving actions of various kinds. The EESC is promoting a European Energy Dialogue with the involvement of civil society organisations as a communication platform able to bridge and - where necessary - align Member States' energy policies.
Energy efficiency, a refurbished ETS and new energy sources - contributors to energy affordability and economic competitiveness
"Europe is not in a position to give up any available European energy source", stressed Richard Adams, a British member from group III (various interests), "but we have to use it in a sustainable and environment-protecting manner, respecting full transparency and the highest security standards. Using our own sources means investing our money in Europe, creating jobs here and thus helping our enterprises and industry."
A special focus must be put on energy efficiency. Sector-specific targets, for instance in the building sector, would be a possibility to tap the huge potential of one of the most effective ways of reaching energy and climate goals.
The EESC supports the refurbishing of the EU-Emission Trading System (ETS) provided that the competitiveness and economic aspects are given sufficient attention, for instance through supportive measures in order to avoid carbon leakage. However, the long-term goal must be the creation of a fully-fledged international carbon market and Europe must do everything in its power to achieve this objective.
Urban mobility – smart solutions with a single European instrument
European urban mobility is degenerating into immobility; congestion and increased CO2 emissions are the consequence. The Commission has already addressed this issue in several communications and policies. In order to enhance its efficiency, the EESC is calling on the Commission to combine these initiatives into a single instrument. The EU and the Member States need to develop a common integrated policy with a shared and ambitious vision. They must involve the general public and civil society, raise the awareness of the population and support and exchange good practices. The Commission is to devise standard guidelines for the specifications of public transport vehicles, thus creating a European market and opening the market to competition by safeguarding the highest environmental and social standards. The commercial aspect should not be ignored, again providing great opportunities for Europe's industry and SMEs.
EU leadership – pushing for an ambitious global climate agreement
As well as influencing our weather, climate change increases the risk of environmental catastrophes, food shortages and struggles for scarce resources; it may also trigger a tendency towards self-preservation, mass migrations, and even the risk of war. To avoid this, the international development of climate policy must be on top of the international as well as the European agenda. "Europe must play a greater role in the desperately needed change in climate policy globally. Therefore it is crucial that the EU speak with one voice at next year's Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in France. Only then will Europe's influence and leadership be strong enough to match our leading position on climate change," says President Henri Malosse in a call for more cooperation and solidarity between the Member States.
 Voting (FOR/AGAINST/ABSTENTIONS): Policy framework for climate and energy 2020-2030 (voting:198/23/13);Energy prices and
costs (voting:163/18/10); Exploration of hydrocarbons with fracking (voting: 167/2/10); EU emission trading scheme (voting: 140/10/13);
competitive and resource-efficient urban mobility (voting: 132/0/3)