The ups and downs of EU energy efficiency policy

This week the EU Parliament will vote on the Energy Efficiency Directive, with the Council due to follow in October. Both votes are expected to be a formality – no-one wants another row over the text.

But before savings from the Directive can actually begin in 2014, the Commission and member states must work out the exact requirements it sets. Make no mistake: this process may be just as tough as the political negotiations on the text of the Directive.

Because of the extensive horse-trading to reach a deal back in June, the text is messy and often unclear. This leaves room for different interpretations, with different levels of ambition. The Directive should lead to 15% savings in 2020 (which, remember, is still only three quarters of the EU’s stated 20% target), but it could end up delivering significantly less. These are very high stakes: a ‘low’ interpretation means less emissions cuts, less cost savings and less jobs created.

All this finessing is taking place out of the spotlight. There is no oversight from the most ambitious player in the negotiations – the Parliament – nor indeed any official channel to find out what is going on. In fact, working out exactly who is responsible for interpreting the Directive is like being dropped, clueless, into the middle of a detective novel.

This is what we have found out so far: the Commission (DG Energy) has set up a special six-person team within its energy efficiency unit. These officials are in the process of preparing ‘interpretative notes’ (or guidance documents) on key articles in the Directive.

The member states, meanwhile, are organised in at least two working groups in Brussels. The first and most formal is the Energy Demand Management Committee (EDMC). This is a secretive set-up, with no publicly available information except a few meeting agendas buried deep in the Commission’s committee register. We are told that the EDMC handles policy, and that its members are mostly drawn from national energy ministries. It was apparently consulted at critical points during the negotiations on the Directive.

The second group goes by the name of the ‘Concerted Action Energy Services Directive’. It is mostly made up of representatives from national energy agencies, and is responsible for technical questions.

We also know that on September 26 the Commission will be meeting these two groups (as well as a third, the ‘Combined Heat and Power’ committee). The Commission will talk them through the Directive, and there will be a discussion on the interpretation process. But what will actually be said there? It’s likely we will never know.

This is worrying, of course. It’s no secret that certain member states bullied the Commission into watering down the Directive before and during the negotiations. In all likelihood they will try to use vague wording in the text (which they were largely responsible for creating) to weaken the Directive even more.

So far there is very little anyone can do to counter that. To say that the process lacks transparency is an understatement. Isn’t it time – as has been done with other directives – to open up the interpretation process to public scrutiny?

By Brook Riley (Friends of the Earth Europe) and Erica Hope (Climate Action Network Europe)

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