Europe's lagging energy efficiency standards are emerging as a key issue ahead of a February meeting of EU heads of state.
Several German ministries are discussing the country's positioning on the question ahead of next month's summit of EU leaders, including the Ministries of Environment, Energy, Finance and Foreign Affairs, and the Chancellor's Office.
"It really is a priority," a source in Berlin told EurActiv. "We've been discussing it internally and it is not an easy issue. In the end, it is the Chancellor who will want to say something."
The 4 February summit, scheduled by the Hungarian EU Presidency, will also discuss ways to complete the EU's internal market for energy. Issues on the table will include energy infrastructure, promoting innovative energy technologies and coordinating the EU's energy policy towards third countries.
EurActiv understands that EU diplomats in the Committee of Permanent Representatives tasked with preparing for the summit's agenda will be discussing the energy efficiency issue in Brussels today (19 January). If no agreement is reached, the subject could then be referred upwards.
"How best we can keep to the energy efficiency targets is one of the points where there is still some discussion needed at the Council if it's not solved before," an EU diplomat said. He added that there was presently no consensus on the best way to measure energy efficiency.
Energy savings target
The EU is committed to a 20% reduction in energy consumption by 2020, a 20% increase in the share of renewables in the energy mix, and a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, all measured against 1990 levels.
But energy efficiency is the only one of the three targets which is not binding on EU member states. It is also the only one which the EU is currently on track to miss, European Commission officials have said.
So far, the EU is estimated to have achieved reductions in energy consumptions of between nine and 11%. But nearly €8 billion of an EU energy savings fund is still going unclaimed.
On 5 January, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, signalled the importance of the issue when he said he would press EU member states for "concrete progress" to meet the 2020 targets.
Although he declined to publicly call for the efficiency targets to be made binding, he said the fact that they had not been, in his view, partly explained the current lack of progress.
But a senior diplomatic source in Rome told EurActiv that Italy would not support any move to set fixed European targets.
"We are in favour of national targets because we have applied a number of energy efficiency measures and the results have been quite good," he said. "We are confident that operating only with national measures would be a good way to reach the target."
The view from London was slightly more reserved. "We are focused on the measures we can take but the UK's approach to domestic targets is that we don't play numbers games," a British diplomat said.
She declined to share any positions that the UK might take in negotiations.
The EU target of consuming 20% less energy by 2020 was first presented by the European Commission in October 2006. It was meant to enhance Europe's energy security, help counter climate change, and make cost savings.
In 2007, an action plan for energy efficiency proposed measures to achieve a 1.5% savings per year until 2012. It estimated that energy savings of 27% and 30% could be made in residential and commercial buildings. Manufacturing industry energy use could be cut by a quarter, while a 26% reduction for transport was identified.
Overall, the energy savings were expected to allow Europe to reduce its CO2 emissions by 780 million tonnes and save €100 billion in fuel costs, all of which would far outweigh the initial outlay in an efficiency drive.
Member states committed to submitting national action plans to the EU executive under the Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services Directive by June 2007. The plans were supposed to outline how each country meant to reach a 16% savings target of by 2016.
But progress has been slow and the Commission admits that on current trends, a far more modest saving of around 11% is more likely.