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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) backs the Commission's proposal to make EU decision-making on energy and climate more democratic, specifically to move from unanimity to qualified majority voting on energy tax matters.
Climate change requires immediate action, and prompt European decision-making is fundamental: the Union must be able to make rapid decisions and adopt timely measures to tackle these issues. Energy taxation in particular is a field where a swift and more democratic voting system at EU level is needed, one where the European Parliament decides on an equal footing with the Council of the European Union.
In its opinion adopted at the September plenary session and put together by Baiba Miltoviča and Dumitru Fornea, the EESC supports the position of the European Commission in its Communication on the legislative framework for future energy and climate policies. The Commission proposes that decisions on energy-related tax matters be made following the ordinary legislative procedure using the "passerelle", which would allow the Council of the EU to switch from unanimity voting to qualified majority and to introduce a co-decision arrangement with the European Parliament.
A smoother voting system to face today's energy and climate challenges more effectively
This shift is key to amending the 2003 Energy Taxation Framework Directive and thus to completing the energy transition and achieving the 2030 energy and climate targets. Current taxes and levies should also be reviewed, and the EESC believes that the Commission should carry out an impact assessment of the potential effects of energy prices, paying particular attention to the effects of tax harmonisation on the poorest households. "Consumers have hardly benefited from the liberalisation of the energy market; they are not gaining their fair share from EU efforts in the field of energy", Ms Miltoviča pointed out. "On top of this, EU energy user charges are already very high. Approximately 40% of the final price of electricity paid by European consumers is made up of taxes and levies", she added.
Moving from unanimity to qualified majority is difficult in this case because it implies a transfer of sovereignty in the sensitive field of taxation. For that reason, "the transfer of sovereignty needs to go hand in hand with the development of a true Energy Union", noted Mr Fornea. "Social equity is our priority; nobody should be left behind. We have to be aware that any taxation on more polluting fuels could directly harm the weaker parts of society and be seen as an additional burden," he continued.
A new institutional balance with civil society at its heart
The concerns of European businesses, workers and consumers need to be listened to in order to ensure efficient management of the climate and energy strategy as well as greater coherence in EU legislation on energy taxation. Organised civil society has an important role to play, and it is essential in the proposed institutional set-up to strike a balance where the new rules include civil society participation.
The EESC, as the voice of civil society, supports the trilogue (Parliament, Council and Commission) and should be involved in the interinstitutional negotiations on adopting EU legislation under the ordinary legislative procedure.
Civil society should be consulted on nuclear matters
Civil society should also be increasingly consulted when shaping policies on nuclear energy. In this regard, the Committee advocates stronger democratic accountability in the decision-making process within the Euratom Treaty, with the European Parliament and the Council equally involved and a role for national Parliaments, which are currently not included in the process.
The EESC also endorses the review of the Euratom Treaty by extending civil society information rights, ensuring cross-border consultation between Member States when there is a potential cross-border impact, and enhancing nuclear accident response capacity.