The French EU Presidency, which runs from 1 July to the end of 2008, has been anticipated for some time and is expected to be one of the busiest presidencies in EU history. The 'weight' of the legislative agenda is unprecedented (EurActiv 02/06/08).
But France, under the energetic leadership of President Nicolas Sarkozy, is confident that it will not only be able to overcome the fallout produced by the Irish 'no' to the Lisbon Treaty, but will also be able to shepherd a deal on the EU's climate and energy package through to adoption before the end of the year, despite diverging views among member states on a number of key points (EurActiv 03/06/08).
French ministers are in Brussels this week (14-18 July) to outline the Presidency's priorities to MEPs in key areas such as energy and consumer protection policies.
Europe "has its back to the wall" with respect to reducing CO2 emissions and proving that it can lead the fight against climate change without compromising its international competitiveness, French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo told MEPs in Brussels on 15 July.
Addressing concerns that the EU's climate agenda is too costly and will put key industries, particularly in some newer member states, at risk from foreign competition, Borloo said the process would not be "not as painful as we imagine".
A number of new member states, led by Hungary, have called for a rethink of the national distribution of EU CO2 reduction targets, arguing that their economies will be compromised under the Commission's current plans (EurActiv 2/06/08).
Going for 30% greenhouse gas reduction?
Borloo, however, is convinced the climate and energy package is "coherent and equitable" and reiterated earlier calls for the EU to go beyond a 20% reduction to a 30% target in anticipation of a global climate change deal by the end of 2009. Under current plans, the EU would only increase its CO2 reduction target once an international deal to fight climate change is agreed.
But when pressed by Finnish Green MEP Satu Hassi to clarify the extent to which the French EU Presidency intends to push for a 30% target, the minister gave a vague response, arguing that France's role during its presidency is not to push for a particular French position but to facilitate the best possible deal in the Council.
Borloo also acknowledged industry concerns about competition from countries with lax emissions regimes and called on the Commission to identify which sectors should qualify for any possible exemptions to the EU's Emissions Trading Sheme (EU ETS) before October 2008, when EU energy and environment ministers convene in their respective Council meetings.
Here again, the Commission has opted for a 'wait-and-see' approach, whereby it intends to specify any exempt sectors only after 2010, pending the outcome of global climate talks.
Using funds from the EU emissions trading scheme
Revenues obtained from the auctioning of emissions permits under the EU ETS should be channeled into energy efficiency improvements in the buildings, transport and energy sectors, Borloo said.
He also welcomed the financing plan for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies championed by UK Liberal MEP Chris Davies, rapporteur on the Commission's proposal on the geological storage of CO2, and Irish Conservative MEP Avril Doyle, rapporteur on the Commission's proposal to revise the EU ETS.
Davies and Doyle want to grant up to 500 million tonnes of EU ETS emissions allowances, which would normally be reserved for new entrants to the scheme, to large-scale CCS demonstration plants. The aim is to provide an incentive to industries concerned about the high cost of building CCS plants.
But member states have not indicated any willingness to divert funds obtained through EU ETS auctioning towards common EU projects, and the Doyle-Davies proposal has not been enthusiastically welcomed by technical experts in the Council, according to Davies, who addressed the issue during the exchange of views.
The requirement of the Commission's renewable energy proposals that renewables should account for 10% of EU transport fuels by 2020 does "not necessarily" mean biofuels, Borloo insisted, echoing the somewhat surprising conclusions of an informal environment ministers meeting last week (EurActiv 07/07/08).
Electric vehicles, powered from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, should also count towards the target, he said.
Brussels is under growing pressure to scrap its controversial 10% biofuels targets amid growing concerns about food price increases and environmental degradation, particularly in the developing world.
Healing the environment
In addition to hearing the Presidency's priorities on climate and energy policy, MEPs were also briefed on environment issues by French Secretary of State for Ecology Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.
The presidency wants in particular to breathe fresh energy into stalled EU talks on soil, Kosciusko-Morizet said, who also cited growing concerns about natural resource scarcity and biodiversity losses in the EU.
And in addition to preventing water pollution through pesticides and chemicals, France also wants to see progress on a reinforced Intergrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive to further prevent and limit pollution from large-scale industrial installations, Kosciusko-Morizet said.