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EU Energy Summit: Climate Protection Is Not That Important Anymore

Christopher Ziedler, Der Tagesspiegel

Europe’s heads of State and government want to promote shale gas and to reduce energy prices. They would rather promote competition than stop global warming.

EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy wanted to hear answers to three questions, from the assembled heads of state and government at the EU summit on Wednesday: How can we further accelerate energy saving at European level? How can energy policy be made so reliable as to attract the necessary investments in grid networks? And how can domestic resources be better utilized? The last question in his letter of invitation which alludes to controversial shale gas fracking carries much political dynamite.

But there is need for action.

“For European companies, rising energy prices have become a competitive disadvantage,” said Martin Schulz (Social Democrats, Germany), President of the European Parliament. “If we do nothing, the energy prices will continue to rise, and our reliance on third countries for energy supply will continue to increase.” Without a change in course, energy imports will have to cover 80 percent of demand in 2035, according to the European Commission.

To consume less energy would be a way. However, energy efficiency is not given much space in the final declaration of the summit. The EU Commission is encouraged to propose strict efficiency standards for energy-consuming appliances by next year. In addition, the implementation of the already adopted directives is called for. Thus, the Irish presidency suggests that improving the insulation of buildings “could give a great boost to the struggling European construction sector”. Electricity prices could be held in check at least by some degree by completion of the European internal energy market by next year. The leaders insist on this too.

What is new foremost is that EU leaders “are viewing energy policy not through the lens of climate change, but through the lens of competitiveness for the first time” an EU diplomat said. The summit still espouses new climate goals when it demands “a predictable climate and energy policy framework for the period after 2020”. The necessity of a “well-functioning emissions trading” also emerges briefly in the text of the summit, but the question how this can be achieved is not answered.

So is it true when German liberal MEP  Holger Krahmer (Free Democrats) is delighted that “the EU summit heralds the end of climate hysteria” and that a “new realism” is now in place? His conservative  colleague Herbert Reul (Christian Democrats), head of the parliamentary CDU in the European Parliament, openly calls for a “U-turn in energy policy. It can no longer be preferentially aligned to climate change “. Accordingly, the Green Party leader Rebecca Harms warns of a “roll back into the energy past.” It was still important, she adds, to “make us less dependent on climate-damaging fossil fuels.”

However, it may be taken as evidence to the contrary that the summit expressly approved the approach by the EU Commission to develop a framework for the “safe and sustainable exploitation of indigenous energy sources”, such as shale gas, this year. In German government circles there is talk about “an important contribution to the enhancement of objectivity of the debate”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, does not want to see it as a “change of course”. She agrees that the shale gas revolution in the United States has created “a completely changed global situation”. “But just because you pronounce such a truth, you do not turn away from climate protection.”

“In an optimistic scenario,” a paper of the European Commission says “unconventional gas could limit the dependence on imports to about 60 percent”. But this does not mean a radical change of course insists Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger: “I do not seek a U-turn. I want a balance between climate policy and a solution of the economic problems in Europe.”

The costs of climate protection, however, Oettinger does want to contain. Later this year, his agency will propose a claw back of subsidies for solar and wind power. “We cannot expand renewable energy sources at any price forever,” said his party colleague Reul. At the same time, subsidies for new power plants should be avoided. In order to eliminate bottlenecks, the European Commission favours contracts with neighbours, according to sources close to Oettinger. “In Baden-Württemberg, it is better to talk with Austria and France instead of building new gas-fired plants.”

Translation Philipp Mueller

Der Tagespiegel, 22 May 2013