eu energy goals

In 2007, the European Union invented the catchy-sounding “20-20-20 for 2020” energy policy strategy, which was mainly designed to promote climate protection, foster renewable energies, and increase energy efficiency. The European Commission is already working on a detailed proposal for the design of a post-2020 target architecture and has started a public consultation to collect views from Member States and stakeholders.

The 2007 energy strategy symbolized the sustainable development paradigm which was mostly unquestioned at that time. The two other angles of the energy policy triangle – security of supply and competitiveness – have been somewhat marginalized in energy policy since 2007 because they are almost impossible to measure on the basis of quantifiable indicators, and thus very hard to implement legally. This does not mean, however, that the target architecture created in 2007 will simply be carried on. On the contrary: As soon as the Commission submits its detailed energy and climate policy proposals for 2030 by the end of 2013, all Member States will enter into conflict-laden negotiations, which the then 28 heads of state and government can only put an end to by reaching a consensus.

At the core of the debate will be the EU’s domestic emissions reduction target, on which the course of the international climate negotiations will have a significant effect. If the UN fails to pass a comprehensive and ambitious global climate treaty by 2015, it will be very difficult for the EU to agree on ambitious unilateral goals as well. But even if the UN climate negotiations for 2015 do not fail, it is unlikely for the intra-European compromise on the post-2020 framework to be consistent with the targets envisioned in the European Commission’s energy 2050 roadmap.

A new target architecture?

Since the emissions trading scheme now works Europe-wide without national allocation, the possibilities of burden-sharing between the more ambitious and the more hesitant EU Member States are rather limited. Governments with an exceptional level of commitment to climate policy have to focus on those sectors that are not part of the EU's emissions trading scheme. But new regulatory burdens in the transport or buildings sector are particularly sensitive issues prior to elections because the direct consequences of ambitious climate policies are much more noticeable for individual voters than stricter regulations for electricity producers would be.

Harsh conflicts are also to be expected in the area of renewable energies. If the current trend continues and the EU or some of its Member States fail to reach the goals for 2020, the willingness of the heads of state and government to once again agree to legally binding targets for the post-2020 period will be negatively affected. This will be even more true if the more ambitious Member States are unwilling to open up their support schemes to installations located in other regions of the EU or consider a Europeanization of support schemes in general. Rather, renewable energy pioneers would then focus on their domestic concepts in this sector and thus increasingly link those to industrial-policy considerations. Such a development would be equivalent to the failure of an overall European framework for renewable energies.

The likelihood of the energy efficiency target being renewed after 2020 is extremely low. The fact that the EU is unlikely to reach its 2020 goals and the tough negotiations on the energy efficiency directive have probably induced Member States even more to give in to their inclination and do without quantifiable limits on overall energy consumption.

Internal EU negotiations in a global context

No substantial discussions have taken place on the fundamental architecture or ambition levels of post-2020 targets, although Member States like the UK have already issued their negotiation positions. It is conceivable that disputes between Member States will not only delay the final decision but also lead to a compromise in the shape of vaguely formulated goals that may be open to a number of different interpretations.

The question of whether or not the European Union will once again agree to a comprehensive energy and climate framework depends strongly on the timing of the negotiations. If the EU Commission submits a detailed proposal on this matter by the end of 2013, negotiations between Member States could begin in the year 2014 and an agreement could be reached in 2015 at the earliest. It is rather unlikely, however, that the EU will be ready to agree to new legally binding domestic targets before the crucial UN climate summit takes place at the end of 2015.

Impending paradigm shift

The development of a European energy and climate strategy for the post-2020 period will constitute a litmus test for this policy area. Due to the complexity of the transformation process towards decarbonized European economies, the medium-term strategies of individual Member States remain unclear. At this point, the course and the result of the negotiations are difficult to predict.

Currently, it seems highly likely that during these negotiations the Central and Eastern European Member States will attempt to at least slow down the speed at which this transformation process is taking place, and these attempts will probably be successful. During the last European Council, the regular meeting of the European heads of state and government, the change in language was quite obvious. For the post-2020 EU energy policy strategy, "sustainability" will not longer be the main buzzword. In the coming years, "competitiveness" will take center stage.