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Environment

Muted expectations ahead of EU energy summit

EU leaders are to tackle energy issues at a meeting in Brussels on Friday. The bloc's energy commissioner is planning to use the meeting to renew his call for a common energy market.

EU commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger

Oettinger is pushing for a common energy market

The European Council will meet on Friday for what is being touted as the ‘first energy summit' in the history of the European Union. MEPs are to discuss integrating the European energy market, improving security and increasing efficiency.

Friday promises to be a big day for the EU's Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger. He is to present his vision of a common European energy market to EU leaders gathered in Brussels. Oettinger is seeking the bloc's endorsement and financial support. But as EU governments grapple with the debt crisis, observers are predicting an inconclusive outcome from the talks.

The 20-20-20 targets

Oettinger's proposal essentially expands on a set of climate and energy targets set in 2007. At that time, EU leaders endorsed a 20 percent cut in emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. In addition, they agreed to a 20 percent increase in the share of renewables in the energy mix and a 20 percent cut in overall energy consumption.

A technician examines solar panels in Leipzig

EU leaders agreed to a 20 percent increase in the use of renewable energy by 2020

EU member states have adopted a variety of schemes in order to reach the agreed targets. Most work with something called the feed-in system, paying a tariff to energy suppliers producing energy from renewable sources. Other countries use quota-based mechanisms. In the run-up to this week's summit, Oettinger has renewed his call for a harmonized feed-in tariff to boost investment in renewable energies across the bloc.

But, so far, Germany and other EU member states have failed to get behind Oettinger's harmonization plan. Observers say it may be difficult to break down national barriers in the current economic climate.

Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes, of the German Renewable Energy Federation, doesn't think a common European energy market should be the priority heading into Friday's talks. “The national support systems work fine,” he said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “There's no need to change them in the short term. It was more important for states to implement their national action plans and to meet the targets set in them,” he explained.

Green Party MEP Claude Turmes has expressed a similar opinion. “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” he said in a statement. In his opinion, national support schemes, combined with existing cooperation mechanisms, are the best way to promote renewables.

Marginal progress on energy efficiency

In addition to market integration, Oettinger has called on EU leaders to make good on promises to improve energy efficiency. Last month, he said EU countries were “seriously lagging behind” in their effort to reduce consumption.

Energy efficient lightbulbs

EU leaders will discuss energy consumption across the bloc

Unlike the targets to cut emissions or increase the use of renewable energy sources, the pledge to cut overall energy consumption by 20 percent is non-binding. Turmes said he wants leaders at Friday's talks to recognize the efficiency targets as binding.

Debt crisis looms

Energy expert Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes doesn't expect any major developments to come out of Friday's meeting. “EU leaders will agree on many things, and many of these things will be good”, he said. “But not a lot will be all that new.” He said leaders will be reluctant to pick up the bill on projects like the expansion of Europe's electricity grids.

Observers say the European Union's debt crisis may eclipse energy issues at Friday's meeting. Leaders are expected to address the euro crisis and bailout systems, which may force green energy issues to take a back seat.

Author: Andrea Rönsberg (AP/dpa)
Editor: Saroja Coelho

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