Germany pours cold water on EU’s clean energy ambitions

German Minister of Economy and Energy Peter Altmaier arrives for a Council meeting of European Energy Ministers in Luxembourg, 11 June 2018. [EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

By Frédéric Simon

Voters across Europe have lost faith in politics partly because of “unachievable targets” on renewable energy, said German Energy Minister Peter Altmaier, who rejected calls from a group of other EU countries to boost the share of renewables to 33-35% of the bloc’s energy mix by 2030.

Altmaier made the comments during an on-the-record exchange between the 28 EU energy ministers, who are gathered in Luxembourg today (11 June) for a meeting of the Energy Council.

Energy ministers are expected to thrash out a joint position on three clean energy laws which are currently being negotiated in the EU institutions – the Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Efficiency Directive and a regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union.

“Germany supports responsible but achievable targets,” Altmaier said from the outset, underlining Berlin’s efforts to raise the share of renewables to 15% of the country’s overall energy mix.

But he said those efforts also carried a cost for the German taxpayer, which he put at €25 billion per year. “And if we are setting targets that are definitely above 30%, that means that within a decade, our share has to be more than doubled – clearly more than doubled,” Altmaier pointed out.

“We’re not going to manage that,” Altmaier said referring to an objective of putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020 in Germany. “Nowhere in Europe is going to manage that,” he claimed. “And even if we did manage to get enough electric cars, we wouldn’t have enough renewable electricity to keep them on the road,” he stressed.

What’s needed, he said, is “a compromise that prevents us from having an unachievable target” at European level. “Citizens across Europe are losing faith in politics. When they see that we are setting very ambitious targets and that a few years later we’re deferring this, we are way off their expectations.”

Higher-ambition coalition

Altmaier’s statement was dismissed as “pathetic” by Claude Turmes, the lead Parliament negotiator on the governance regulation, who will become energy minister of Luxembourg at the end of the month.

Still, Germany’s declarations poured cold water on expectations from other EU countries, which have called for higher ambition on the EU’s “clean energy package” of legislation.

Luxembourg and Spain, which spoke before Germany at the Council meeting, both supported the European Parliament’s call for higher targets on renewables and energy efficiency, backing a 35% objective for both. The Netherlands, France, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Portugal were also among those calling for higher targets on renewables and energy efficiency than those currently on the table.

Brune Poirson, the French secretary of state for ecology, underlined the need for “strong ambition” at EU level to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, whose signatories committed to avoiding dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.

France, Poirson said, is ready to support a compromise on energy efficiency at “around 33%”, which she said stood halfway between the positions of the European Parliament and EU member states. On renewables, she said a 32% figure would be “a good compromise”.

Of equal importance, she said, is the proposed “gap-filler” mechanism envisaged in cases where EU countries are lagging behind in meeting the agreed EU objectives. Poirson was backed on this point by Altmaeir who said Germany was ready to back a gap-filler for both targets – on renewables and energy efficiency.

“As regards the heating and cooling sector, we are also prepared to move further towards the European Parliament,” Altmaier said.

Talks on the three proposed EU laws are expected to conclude on Wednesday (13 June) during three-way talks between the European Parliament and the EU Council, with the European Commission acting as mediator.

Opposition from Visegrad group

But the chances of reaching an “ambitious” agreement closer to the Parliament’s position during the so-called “trilogue” talks now appears slimmer without full backing from Germany.

The Visegrad group of countries comprising the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland reiterated their opposition to raising the EU’s level of ambition. Hungary, for instance, said any increase in the renewable energy target should trigger a new impact assessment from the European Commission, a lengthy procedure that would delay the adoption of the directive.

Not all hope is lost however, according to Turmes, who noted that shifting positions from new governments in Spain and Italy have lifted the blocking minority against a 33% objective for renewables and energy efficiency.

And Poland’s stance might also be shifting too.

Speaking at today’s ministerial meeting, the Polish Deputy Energy Minister Michał Kurtyka sought to distance himself from the other V4 countries, saying “our message must be both ambitious and credible” in view of the COP24 conference taking place in Katowice in December this year.

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