Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Decision adopting a multiannual framework programme for actions in the energy sector (1998-2002) and connected measures'

Official Journal C 214 , 10/07/1998 P. 0044

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the 'Proposal for a Council Decision adopting a multiannual framework programme for actions in the energy sector (1998-2002) and connected measures` (98/C 214/12)

On 4 February 1998 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 198 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Energy, Nuclear Questions and Research, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 7 April 1998. The rapporteur was Mr von der Decken.

At its 354th plenary session of 29 and 30 April 1998 (meeting of 29 April 1998) the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion with 115 votes in favour and three abstentions.

1. Introduction

1.1. The proposal for a Council Decision contains an explanatory memorandum and seven annexes.

- Annex I contains the proposal for a Decision;

- Annex II deals with the financial aspects of the first area of action, comprising the horizontal measure, prospective analysis and market monitoring;

- Annex III deals with the financial aspects of the second area of action, the horizontal measure currently carried out under the Synergy programme, promoting international cooperation in the energy sector;

- Annex IV outlines the thematic programme, promotion of renewable energy sources and its financial aspects. This thematic programme was formerly part of Altener II;

- Annex V comprises the action area, energy efficiency and reduction of CO2 emissions, and its financial aspects. This thematic programme was formerly part of SAVE II;

- Annex VI deals with the Carnot programme;

- Annex VII outlines the financial aspects of cooperation with the New Independent States, e.g. with regard to the transport of radioactive materials and the fight against illicit trafficking in nuclear materials.

1.2. The aim of the energy framework programme is to ensure the coherence and efficiency of energy policy measures. The programmes need to be incorporated into a better integrated and more transparent and effective framework. This five-year framework is based on the linking of horizontal and thematic actions and programmes.

1.3. Structure of the framework programme - bodies

In order to achieve the highest possible degree of coherence, particular importance is attached to the effectiveness of the decision-making process. The Commission proposal relies for its implementation on the support of a single committee, consultative in nature, which has still to be established and which will cooperate with all the bodies involved.

1.4. Horizontal actions

These actions go beyond any specific programme, making a global contribution to the priority objectives. While they have their own purpose, they will also ensure that actions taken under the thematic programmes in the framework programme are coordinated and will contribute towards coherence with other Community policies.

1.4.1. The main objective of the programme for prospective analyses and market monitoring and the actions it comprises is to underpin energy-related decisions taken at national and Community level with a uniform analytical basis. The programme is concerned in particular with the action areas of climate change, opening up of energy markets and world energy market trends.

1.4.2. International cooperation in the energy sector is planned in the following areas: advice on energy policy, visits by experts to bodies in third countries, energy studies and forecasts, training actions, coordination of the various Community instruments involved in international actions in the energy sector, dissemination and exchange of information.

1.5. Thematic programmes

These programmes cover energy-related areas which are EU priorities.

1.5.1. Promotion of renewable energy sources and implementation of a strategy and Community action plan in this area: As stressed in the Altener II programme, the aim is to promote the use of renewable energies by means of market penetration, extension of infrastructures and circulation of information.

1.5.2. Encouragement of energy efficiency, covered by the SAVE II programme.

1.5.3. Promotion of clean and efficient use of solid fuels, covered by the Carnot programme.

1.5.4. Measures covered by the action for cooperation in the nuclear sector on safety are aimed at improving the system of accounting and monitoring of nuclear materials (safeguards), and computerized systems at all levels. Industrial cooperation with Russia and the New Independent States, and the transport of radioactive materials, including the fight against illicit trafficking: This programme will cover six fields of activity, aimed at facilitating the functioning of the internal market, evaluating incidents occurring during transport and cooperating with the CEEC and the NIS to improve the safety of transport.

1.6. Coordination with energy components of other Community programmes and policies

1.6.1. Support for research and technological development: The fifth framework programme, like the fourth, embraces programmes like Joule and Thermie and an R& TD programme on nuclear safety and controlled thermonuclear fusion, implemented on the basis of the Euratom Treaty and with the participation of the JRC.

1.6.2. The methods of operation, bodies and implementing instruments of the trans-European energy networks will remain unchanged.

1.6.3. Coordination with programmes in other areas of policy, such as external relations (Phare, Tacis and MEDA), the Structural Funds and investment support, is to be improved.

1.6.4. A network of the Directors-General concerned is to be established to ensure that guidelines involving an energy dimension are coordinated and transparent. Each year the network of the Directors-General will draw up a summary of all the energy actions undertaken under all the various Community policies.

1.7. General financial elements

The table below gives an indicative breakdown of funding in million ECU. The estimated budgets are outlined in detail in the financial statements in the annex.


1.8. The Economic and Social Committee has issued opinions on Altener II () and SAVE II ().

2. General comments

2.1. The Committee welcomes the Commission document as a first step towards a uniform, coherent and efficient approach to energy policy measures, aimed at flexibility and transparency. The need to do more in this priority area is recognized, and a start can now be made on targeted coordination of the many and varied efforts required.

2.2. Community energy policy faces major challenges in the new few years. The main feature of the energy situation is growing import-dependence. In view of this and changing geopolitical conditions, the Union's external relations, particularly in the energy field, are of key importance. EU policy must concentrate more on securing energy supplies. International cooperation in the energy sector should ensure greater security of supply, and contribute to a transfer of culture and a worldwide improvement in safety standards.

2.3. In the light of growing globalization, markets will come closer together and firms will increasingly compete with each other globally. The interests of Europe and its citizens must be considered and the competitiveness of European industry improved to enable it to withstand global competition.

2.4. The progress achieved in liberalizing the markets for electricity () and gas (Energy Council of 8 December 1997) is an important step towards completion of the internal market and improvement of the Community's international competitiveness.

2.5. Another challenge is bringing an environmental dimension to the above points. The energy policy of the future must, in embracing the objective of sustainable growth, also be an environmental policy, or at least ensure proper treatment of the environment.

2.6. Bringing energy and environment together in the framework programme reflects the need for greater consideration of environmental policy. In view of the commitments entered into at Kyoto and the measures needed to fulfil these, it is clear that Community energy policy has to be brought into line with the objectives of environmental protection.

2.7. The low energy prices to be expected as a result of increasing liberalization and the intensification of competition could threaten to limit the success of environmental policy efforts. On the other hand, the introduction of an energy tax to internalize external costs could make it more difficult to strengthen the competitive position of European industry. Apart from extremely accurate observation, feedback is also needed from the Member States to counter any trends which might stand in the way of competition, environmental protection and citizens' interests. Against this background exhaustive discussions will be needed on permanent principles and a future strategy which must take into account both the environmental dimension, in the sense of sustainable development, and international competitiveness, and which will at the same time reduce import-dependency. Experience in the Member States may suggest ways in which these to some extent contradictory objectives can be successfully reconciled.

2.8. The Committee welcomes the Commission's concentration on three priorities: security of supply, competitiveness and environmental protection and the consequent thrust of its energy policy, which is based on a package of measures to achieve there objectives, and on efficiency and transparency. An initial, but in itself insufficient, step towards greater transparency was the Communication from the Commission - An overall view of energy policy and actions, on which the Committee has also issued an opinion ()

3. Specific comments

The Committee agrees with the Commission that the energy policy measures taken to achieve greater coherence and efficiency need to be incorporated into a better integrated, more transparent and effective framework.

3.1. General structure

3.1.1. The energy framework programme, as submitted by the Commission, is only a first step towards a uniform approach of this kind. It comprises only programmes, the financial impact of which falls within the ambit of Directorate-General XVII. Explicit mention should be made in the document of this selection criterion, as it will not be immediately clear to outsiders.

3.1.2. One would expect the framework programme to provide a summary of measures taken in the energy sector. The title leads one to expect this. But the Committee fails to find in the Commission document any reference to major energy policy measures, and it regrets that the framework programme comprises only DG XVII programmes.

3.1.3. Despite the fact that the European Union's limited legal powers do not permit comprehensive integration of all energy policy measures, the framework programme should provide a complete overview of all Commission measures within and outside the programme in order to improve the coherence and efficiency of energy policy. This, together with a less formal presentation, would make the Commission document more transparent and comprehensible to the general public, which is particularly important in view of the need for public support from European citizens for the energy sector.

3.1.4. The Commission does not refer to the separately financed programmes and actions (those contained in the framework programme and others proposed by the Commission), such as for example the Community strategy to promote combined heat and power (CHP) and to dismantle barriers to its development () and Energy for the future: renewable sources of energy - White Paper for a Community strategy and action plan (), on which the Committee prepared opinions at the time. The Committee considers it very important that these measures be combined into a consistent programme and that their inter-relationship be highlighted, and calls on the Commission to make further progress with the integration of energy policy measures.

3.1.5. The Committee also considers a summary of actions carried out in the Member States to be a useful tool in facilitating the productive exchange of experience, and the development of a coherent and efficient Community energy policy and complementary measures. The principle of subsidiarity must at all times be observed.

3.2. Legal basis

3.2.1. Efforts by various decision-makers to have an energy chapter incorporated into the Treaty have still to bear fruit. The Commission is now sensibly attempting to use the legal framework available to it to the full by aiming, via an intensified information flow, for coordination within the Commission of the various energy policy measures.

3.2.2. Using the existing, limited legal means at its disposal, the Commission has created opportunities for the future with the setting up of the single committee and the internal establishment of the network of Directors-General. If the Commission succeeds in implementing the proposals, in laying the basis for a future procedure, thus sending a positive signal to the Council of Ministers, and in showing that the path taken with the single committee and the network of Directors-General leads to greater coherence and coordination, it would be worthwhile considering, at the appropriate time, the possibility of extending this working method.

3.2.3. The single committee would then have to set about eliminating the existing inconsistencies at Community and Member State level. The Member States would have to assume substantial responsibilities in a committee of this kind, which would extend the role of the committee beyond that of a purely consultative body, as proposed by the Commission, to an administrative and regulatory body.

3.3. Bodies

3.3.1. As a result of the stress laid on the horizontal and thematic programmes, important points relating to the organizational structure, which ought to be emphasized more strongly, have been pushed into the background and not accorded sufficient attention.

3.3.2. The single committee proposed by the Commission is a new body to be established, with responsibility for the programmes administered within the energy framework programme and for the coordination of actions. It will replace existing programme committees and take on their responsibilities.

3.3.3. Further, detailed discussions will be needed on the single committee and the delimitation of its responsibilities in relation to those of the other energy policy committees operating under the framework programme. Overlapping responsibilities or competition is to be avoided. The single committee must provide added value compared with the existing committees which it is to replace, and it should be suited to taking on their functions.

3.3.4. The document does not deal in detail with the membership of the single committee, which is to contribute actively to the coordination of the energy policy measures conducted in the framework of the Community's various policy areas. It is to provide for the transparency and integration of the various energy policy measures and the consideration of the necessary technical know-how. Further details are needed on the membership and operation of the committee.

3.3.5. The Commission has submitted a Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Decision concerning the Fifth Framework Programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (1998-2002), on which the Committee has issued an opinion (). The question should be addressed as to whether experience of the joint coordinating structure and the consultative structure of the fifth framework programme can, in the light of very different legal starting positions, be used for the energy framework programme, and whether any conclusions can be drawn.

3.4. Improved coordination with energy components of the individual areas of Community policy

3.4.1. The Committee agrees with the Commission that coordination between the Directorates-General should be stepped up and an annual summary drawn up of all energy policy actions carried out in the various areas of Community policy, to prevent any future clashes between measures, and it welcomes the Commission's plan to set up a network of Directors-General.

3.4.2. The Committee sees this network, which provides a framework for all energy policy measures, even those not included within the framework programme, such as the Community strategy to promote combined heat and power, and the White Paper on renewable sources of energy and regional policy, as a main plank of the framework programme, and would like to see it given prominent billing.

3.4.3. The network of Directors-General offers an opportunity to combine the energy-related capacities of all the Directorates-General, to maintain within the Commission broad support for a Community energy policy, and thus to mitigate the disadvantages of the lack of a separate energy chapter in the EU Treaty. Common strategies, extending beyond the responsibilities of a single Directorate-General, need to be developed.

3.4.4. The Committee would like to see the network of Directors-General draw up, as a matter of priority, a summary of all relevant measures and areas and continue this in annual reports on the coordination of energy policy measures and their impact. A rough overview, as contained in the Commission Communication on an overall view of energy policy and actions (), on which the Committee has issued an opinion (), is not sufficiently specific or complete. The network of Directors-General should also consider the extent to which the Commission's energy policy measures contribute to the achievement of Community objectives.

3.4.5. In order to be able to make use of the advantages and opportunities of this network as soon as possible, it needs to be institutionalized by means of political and operational guidelines.

3.5. The network of Directors-General and the single committee will be responsible for coordination at Community or framework programme level. The Committee endorses this approach, provided that future energy policy is consciously reshaped with these two new bodies.

4. The horizontal and thematic programmes

4.1. Prospective analyses and market monitoring ()

4.1.1. The aim of this action is to develop, in cooperation with the Member States, a programme of regular monitoring of market developments and energy trends in order that energy policy decisions can be taken on the basis of a shared analysis.

4.1.2. The Committee considers it appropriate, in drawing up analyses, to use and build on other studies and experience. This programme should cover only additional material; moreover this is appropriate to the modest funding available, which would in any case not be sufficient for exhaustive market analyses.

4.2. International cooperation in the energy sector ()

4.2.1. Synergy is a specific programme of international cooperation in the energy sector. Annex III to the framework programme is merely a continuation for five years of the Synergy programme () adopted by the Council in 1997 for one year.

4.2.2. The Committee supports the programme, but regrets that, despite productive cooperation on programmes such as Altener II and SAVE II, it was not consulted on Synergy.

4.3. Promotion of renewable energy sources ()

4.3.1. The high importance attached to renewable energy sources is a reflection of environmental requirements. Clarification is needed however as to how far the new programme differs from the Altener II programme already submitted, on which the Committee has issued an opinion (), or whether it is in fact identical, and as to the roles assigned to Altener II and the White Paper, and the related action plan for renewable energy sources (on which an ESC study group is preparing an opinion), within the multiannual programme for the promotion of renewable energy sources in the Community.

4.3.2. The Committee calls for the name Altener to be retained in view of its familiarity, the name being inseparably linked with renewable energy sources, and calls on the Commission, in the interests of clarity, to list it in the title of annex IV.

4.4. Promotion of energy efficiency ()

4.4.1. The Committee agrees with the Commission on the importance of efficient energy use and sees this as offering the best opportunities for reduction of CO2 emissions. The Committee has already issued an opinion on the SAVE II programme (). For budgetary reasons, at the time the decision was taken in 1996 funds could be made available only for the first year of the programme. The funding for subsequent years was to come from the energy framework programme which was still to be drawn up. SAVE II has now been integrated into the framework programme and has been extended to run until 2002.

4.4.2. The Committee is glad that the funding of SAVE II is now secure and that the programme has been extended in time to coincide with the framework programme. The Commission document unfortunately does not state however how far the new SAVE II differs from the existing programme or to what extent it has been extended. It may be assumed however that any changes are insignificant.

4.4.3. The Community strategy to promote combined heat and power (CHP) and to dismantle barriers to its development (), which is also administered by DG XVII, should be mentioned in the framework of a strategy to promote energy efficiency as an important contribution to this objective, even if it is not part of the framework programme.

4.4.4. The Committee calls for the name SAVE to be retained and referred to in the title of annex V.

4.5. Promotion of clean and efficient use of solid fuels ()

4.5.1. Carnot is a contribution to the exploitation of knowledge gained with regard to the clean generation of energy from coal. It appears that this area, which has hitherto been covered by Thermie II, is now to be dealt with separately.

4.5.2. The Committee can support this programme, but points out that the Commission is responsible for ensuring complementarity with other research programmes not included in the fifth framework programme, such as ECSC and Thermie II programmes, and for preventing any duplication of work.

4.5.3. The Committee has issued an opinion on Thermie II (). The Commission document does not place the non-research-related aspects of Thermie in a broader framework.

4.5.4. With a view to reducing energy-dependency, particularly in the light of the forthcoming enlargement of the Union and incidents on the territory of the accession candidates, the possibility of making increased use of Europe's coal reserves should be considered. This would require more funding for research in the field of technologies for the clean generation of energy from fossil fuels.

4.6. Cooperation in the energy sector ()

4.6.1. At first sight the energy framework programme would appear to earmark relatively little funding for nuclear safety. This is the result of the selection of small, individual actions from within the larger field of nuclear safety, the reasons for which are not clear to outsiders. The Committee stresses that this approach is not calculated to boost European citizens' confidence in nuclear safety; and they are already very sensitive in relation to nuclear energy. Broad public support can be expected only if there is transparency and trust.

4.6.2. A summary of all nuclear safety programmes is needed here, with reference to actions in other areas too (Tacis, Phare 5, research framework programme etc.), particularly as we are concerned here with a framework programme. The links with other programmes need to be made clear.

4.6.3. The Committee feels that incorporating a small part of the large field of nuclear safety into an energy framework programme in such a formal way (financial statement), thus creating uncertainty in the minds of European citizens, is not the right approach. It has to be established whether added value is created in this way, or whether perhaps it might be preferable to remove annex VII from the framework programme and to deal with it in conjunction with other nuclear safety measures.

5. Final comments

5.1. The Committee feels that programme documents in particular should not be drawn up in a formal way, but rather made comprehensible to a broader, interested public. It is not clear to outsiders why these few measures have been gathered together in the framework programme, but not other energy-related measures of DG XVII or the Commission.

5.2. It should also be made clear what 'framework` means in the term framework programme. The Committee urges that the Commission, in drawing up its documents, pay more attention to clarity and public impact. The Committee considers this extraordinarily important in securing the political backing of Europe's citizens.

Brussels, 29 April 1998.

The President of the Economic and Social Committee


() OJ C 19, 21.1.1998.

() OJ C 82, 19.3.1996.

() Council and European Parliament Directive, OJ L 27, 30.1.1997.

() OJ C 19, 21.1.1998.

() COM(97) 514 final; ESC opinion: OJ C 157, 25.5.1998.

() COM(97) 599 final.

() OJ C 355, 21.11.1997.

() COM(97) 167 final.

() See annex II to COM(97) 550 final.

() See annex III to COM(97) 550 final.

() OJ L 104, 22.4.1997.

() See annex IV to COM(97) 550 final.

() See annex V to COM(97) 550 final.

() See annex VI to COM(97) 550 final.

() OJ C 393, 31.12.1994.

() See annex VII to COM(97) 550 final.