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Europe

European Union leaders tackle looming energy bill

The European Commission estimates that EU countries will have to spend 1 trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) on energy infrastructure over the next decade. Leaders gathered in Brussels for a one-day summit to talk strategy.

Energy-saving lamps

Energy-saving lamps can help on a small scale

On Friday, European leaders gathered in Brussels for a one-day summit to give new impetus to attempts to create a single energy market in Europe.

"It is no longer possible to design energy policies in a purely national context; a European framework is needed," summit chairman Herman van Rompuy said via Twitter during the meeting.

The European Union has long struggled to unite its fragmented national energy markets into a single, more efficient unit.

EU leaders in Brussels

Herman van Rompuy (l.) chaired the summit

A number of member states, including Spain, Portugal and the Baltics, have few or no energy links to the main body of Europe. Attempts to break through to them have so far failed, with businesses complaining that governments take too long to grant permits for the new links.

Renewable sources

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told leaders at the start of the summit that Europe could do better than the current trend of exporting 2.5 percent of its annual GDP for energy imports.

That equates to 270 billion euros ($372 billion) a year for oil, and 40 billion euros for gas.

In 2008, the 27 member states agreed to a goal of getting 20 percent of their energy from green sources by the end of this decade.

Friday's accord acknowledges that longer-term growth will require about 200 billion euros of investment in a high-tech power grid to carry northern wind power and solar energy from the Mediterranean to central cities such as Paris and Prague.

"The EU and its member states will promote investment in renewables and safe and sustainable low carbon technologies," the accord said.

Leaders called on the European Commission to develop strategies for financing an overhaul of the energy grid, as well as standards for charging electric cars, building computer-assisted "smart" grids and developing sustainable biofuels.

Effects of debt crisis

The economic crisis has slowed EU industrial output, aiding its plan to cut climate-warming emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade. They are currently down by about 17 percent.

But the crisis has also hindered investment.

Governments are now split between those that have put money and action behind the promised green-tech revolution, such as Germany and Denmark, and those that have merely paid lip-service to the goal. Industry is likewise split.

Wind turbine in the Baltic

Germany has already invested heavily in wind energy

The European plan to boost renewable energy will also help the bloc's energy security - a pressing issue since imports of Russian gas via Ukraine were cut during three weeks of freezing weather in January 2009.

EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger and High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton wanted leaders to give them a stronger mandate for pursuing energy goals when dealing with Russia, Turkey, central Asia and north Africa.

"Work should be taken forward as early as possible to develop a reliable, transparent and rules-based partnership with Russia in areas of common interest in the field of energy," the resolution said.

Leaders agreed that funding should be found for those strategically useful gas links that industry has ignored in its quest for profits - for example a link across the Pyrenees to carry northwards Spain's glut of natural gas from Algeria.

Author: Joanna Impey (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Mark Hallam

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