How to strengthen the Commission’s clean energy proposal

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Policies to accelerate Europe’s energy transition require more realistic projections, better consultation with consumers, and clearer rules on Brussels’ attempt to enforce renewable energy targets, the EU’s main civil society body has warned.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) voted to approve five opinions at this week’s plenary session on the Commission’s winter energy package "Clean Energy for All Europeans" – a 1,000-page set of proposals, released in November, that Energy Union Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič told members would ‘revolutionise’ the sector.

While broadly welcoming the package, especially the efforts to recognise and strengthen the role of energy consumers as self-supplying producers and new market participants such as local energy communities, the EESC foresees major hurdles, particularly as the Commission tries to oversee each country’s National Energy and Climate Plans.

“The EESC has deep concerns about the capacity of the governance process to enforce and deliver concrete results,” Opinion TEN/624 reads. “There is too great a reliance on consultations and peer pressure rather than clear rules. Further clarification is needed about the way in which the Commission can require member states to take the ‘necessary measures’ in case it detects that there could be a gap, both on the ambition and implementation levels, in particular as regards renewables and energy efficiency.”

The Commission communication “puts energy efficiency first” and highlights its benefits to address energy poverty. EESC Rapporteur Ulrich Samm also underlined the key role of energy efficiency for our society but argued that “Increasing efficiency isn’t necessarily the first weapon you would choose to fight energy poverty.” The Opinion calls for a more “realistic” consideration of the fact that “a positive effect on costs … depends crucially on the balance between investments into more efficient household appliances, building insulation, etc. and energy cost savings.”

The plan to create an Energy Poverty Observatory was welcomed, with the Committee noting this reflected a 2013 proposal by the president of the EESC’s energy section Pierre Jean Coulon.

“New energies must develop in a fair way,” said EESC President Georges Dassis, adding that the clean energy transition “can’t be at the cost of certain areas of the population, particularly the disadvantaged.”

EESC members questioned Commission Vice President Šefčovič about these and other issues, including biofuels, market-distorting subsidies and counter-productive state aid regulations, and the urgent need to upgrade the 75% of buildings around the EU considered energy inefficient.

The commissioner said it was vital to champion the proposals, as the world was now looking to the EU to show the way forward.

Europe is becoming a global leader in fighting climate change and developing smart solutions,” he said. “We must therefore also show that we are delivering on our own promises.”

All five opinions were adopted with very broad majorities, reflecting the EESC's united response to the package.