Stage set for fight over EU’s 2030 renewable energy target –

A majority of EU states have backed a 40% target for renewable energies like wind and solar by 2030 – a far cry from the 45% objective tabled by the European Commission and supported by Parliament earlier this year in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Speeding up the deployment of renewables is “a key component of our agenda to phase out Russian fossil fuels” and isolate Moscow, said Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner, who spoke during a meeting of the EU’s Energy Council on Monday (19 December) .

The 51 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity installed in 2022 have helped the EU save around 10 billion cubic meters of gas, she added to illustrate the contribution of renewables to Europe’s energy independence.

The European Parliament agrees. In September, MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favor of the 45% objective. And their view matters since Parliament has an equal say as EU member states when it comes to the adoption of EU laws.

Yet, the bloc’s 27 energy ministers could only find a majority to back the 40% target tabled by the EU executive the year before the Russian invasion, reiterating a stance already expressed at an earlier meeting in June.

With the Council’s position formally adopted, so-called trialogue talks can now take place between the European Commission, Council and Parliament to try and find a compromise.

And with positions still far apart, the battle lines are now drawn.

European Parliament backs 45% renewable energy goal for 2030

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday (14 September) in favor of a 45% target for renewable energy in the EU’s energy mix by 2030, paving the way for negotiations with the 27 member states to finalise the text before the end of the year.

Two camps

At Monday’s Energy Council, many EU member states appeared sceptical of raising the EU’s renewable energy target, with key countries like France refusing to endorse the 45% objective.

Anna Moskwa, the Polish minister for climate and environment, was among those calling on the EU to stick with the 40% target agreed earlier in June.

“We are all ambitious about renewables but it doesn’t mean that we need to change the target from one day to another – that’s why we would like to keep the already agreed targets,” the Polish minister told her colleagues, inviting those who want higher objectives to implement them at the national level.

She was backed by Bulgaria and Slovakia, as well as the Hungarian minister, who insisted on keeping “the overall EU renewable energy target of 40%”. Romania echoed this view, saying a 45% target would “lead to higher uncertainty” for EU member states to achieve their goals.

Others, however, begged to differ.

In a joint declarationeight EU countries – Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain – expressed support for the 45% target, and called “for an increase in ambition” during upcoming talks with the European Parliament and the Commission to finalize the law.

Claude Turmes, the energy minister of Luxembourg, said EU countries “would be ill-advised” to settle for a lower target. “If we want to succeed in tackling climate change and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we’re going to need to set up higher renewable targets,” he told fellow ministers.

Robert Habeck, the German vice-chancellor and minister for climate and the economy, agreed. “We need to change the target,” he said, backing calls by his colleagues from Portugal and Luxembourg to endorse a 45% objective for renewables.

During Monday’s meeting, Turmes drummed up support for the joint declaration in favor of the 45% objective, which found backing from eight EU member states.

“If we add up these countries, we have a blocking minority,” he warned at the end of the exchange.

Croatia and Ireland voted in favor of the 40% target in the compromise text proposed by the Czech EU Council presidency, but said they would be open to consider a higher objective during upcoming talks with the Parliament to finalise the law. And Finland said it would “support the 45% target when moving to the next phase of the negotiation”.

The Netherlands, for its part, said it “would be happy to have a more ambitious target” but could live with the 40-45% bracket suggested by Denmark.

France was the only prominent EU country to remain tight-lipped on the matter, with minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher only saying that Paris is “obviously favourable to the development of renewable energies in Europe”.

She added, however, that France is more largely in favor of “everything that contributes” to decarbonising the economy and abandoning fossil fuels – code for nuclear power.

Final talks after the new year

The renewable energy directive is now entering its final stage of adoption, with three-way talks due to take place after the new year between EU countries, the Commission and Parliament under the auspices of the Swedish Council presidency.

Speaking at a press conference after the Council meeting, Commissioner Simson could not hide her disappointment with the ministers’ decision to endorse a 40% target.

“Of course, the Commission’s initial proposal was significantly more ambitious,” she admitted.

“In real life, we do see that there is a chance to achieve a higher renewable target than 40%,” Simson added, expressing hope that EU member states will hike their ambition during talks with the European Parliament.

When the European Union last updated its renewables directive in 2018, EU institutions were similarly at odds, fighting between a 30% and 35% target. In the end, they met halfway, at 32.5%.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]