* Politicians back immediate talks with council of ministers
* Efficiency still could be a divisive issue
* Denmark has set energy saving as presidential priority
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Feb 28 Members of the European
Parliament backed a set of energy saving proposals on Tuesday,
clearing the way for a possible deal by the end of June on a law
that could boost jobs, household incomes and cut fuel import
Denmark, holder of the EU presidency, has set as a priority
for its six months in office achieving political agreement to
improve energy efficiency through measures such as building
The parliament's industry committee backed a resolution on
energy saving proposals by 51 for, 6 against and 3 abstentions.
It also voted in favour of immediate talks with the Council of
EU ministers, avoiding time-consuming extra parliamentary
Advocates of energy efficiency say it is an obvious,
environmentally-friendly spur to growth.
But ministerial debate could be difficult and the business
lobby and major energy firms have objected to what they consider
The intensity of feeling surrounding the issue was reflected
in some 1,800 amendments, which months of parliamentary debate
reduced to 18 compromise proposals, 17 of which were voted
through on Tuesday.
"It is a very, very, very good text," Claude Turmes, vice
president of the Greens group, who is steering the energy
efficiency draft through parliament, told reporters. "This is
the single biggest victory I have had in this parliament."
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has repeatedly told
EU ministers of the need to deliver a promised 20 percent
improvement in energy saving by 2020.
The bloc is only expected to make it half-way to meeting the
20 percent target, unless it implements changes covered by the
new draft law.
"This is an important vote for our proposal, as the
committee backs our choice of main drivers for saving energy,"
Oettinger said in a statement.
"With the text voted today, we would be able to achieve the
main goal of the directive - namely to save 20 percent of energy
A central article, number 6, of the highly complex draft law
focuses on a target requiring energy firms to achieve annual
energy savings equal to 1.5 percent of their sales.
Some member states have raised the idea of measures such as
"early accounting", which would allow previous action to qualify
towards savings. Environmental groups and Green politicians say
that would be cheating and all savings must be genuinely new.
"Our text is clear on article 6. It does not have loopholes.
It's a very sober, proper article, which will drive investments
into energy savings," Turmes said.
Among the compromises hammered out to ensure broad political
support on Tuesday was the easing of a Commission proposal to
renovate 3 percent of the floor area of public buildings.
In Tuesday's compromises, the 3 percent dropped to 2.5
percent, but other requirements were introduced, including "deep
renovation", which amounts to 75 percent of energy reduction in
The one compromise that did not get support covered
procurement, which would include buying building equipment or
A 20 percent improvement in efficiency was one of a set of
three 2020 targets set in March 2007.
It is the only non-binding target of the three and the one
that requires further law to try to ensure it is achieved.
More energy savings could knock down an already depressed
carbon market, so one of the proposals called on the Commission
to tackle a huge surplus of permits weighing on the EU Emissions
Trading Scheme (ETS).
Representing the business community, lobby group
BUSINESSEUROPE said it was important the Commission analyse the
longer term problems of the ETS, but said parliament had gone
too far in calling on the Commission to withhold "the necessary
amount" of carbon allowances.
"We need a flexible not a bureaucratic directive, and above
all one which does not confuse energy efficiency with
prescriptions on cutting energy consumption," BUSINESSEUROPE's
Director General Philippe de Buck said.
Environmental campaigners welcomed Tuesday's vote.
Brook Riley, energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth
Europe, said the parliamentarians "could have gone further", but
that it was a good result.
He cited Commission figures that meeting the EU's 20 percent
efficiency target for 2020 would cut greenhouse gas emissions by
740 million tonnes, create up to 2 million new jobs, cut
dependence on energy imports and save more than 1,000 euros
($1,300) per year per household.
($1 = 0.7466 euros)