5 October 2009: Ireland votes for a more effective EU

The Irish have voted to accept the Lisbon Treaty so, unless the Czech Republic or Poland decide unexpectedly to refuse to do so, the Treaty of Lisbon will come into force. This will not have a significant direct effect on climate and energy policy, but it will enable to EU to focus on more important things rather than endless institutional wrangling. Most importantly, the EU can now focus on reducing its annual greenhouse emissions from over ten tonnes (see EU – climate and energy statistics) to the two tonnes maximum needed to protect the climate.

Energy has always been central to the European debate – the European Coal and Steel Community and Euratom (on nuclear power) were among the first cross-border arrangements after World War II. Member states have the primary role in setting energy policy, but the EU has significant roles in setting targets and, more importantly, providing subsidies. The European Commission says that the Lisbon Treaty means a new era in European energy policy:

The Treaty contains a specific chapter on energy which defines the key competencies and the overall objectives of energy policy: the functioning of energy markets, security of supply, energy efficiency and savings, the development of new and renewable forms of energy and the interconnection of energy networks. For the first time there will be a principle of solidarity, ensuring that if one country faces severe difficulties in the supply of energy, other Member States will help keep the country supplied.

(See Europa Treaty of Lisbon: Policies for a better life.)

In reality, we are unlikely to see a pan-European energy policy. However, Lisbon ratification will enable EU institutions and national governments to focus on implementing existing policies. The EU has targets to:

  • Reduce greenhouse emissions by 20% by 2020 (which may be increased if there is a strong agreement in Copenhagen – though “strong” is undefined).
  • Get 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020.
  • Have 10 to 12 large Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) demonstration plants operating by 2012. Last week, the Commission presented a list of seven CCS projects (one each in Germany, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, UK, Italy and France), which should be given subsidy – total funding of €1,050 is available for these seven, so this does represent genuine progress, although the €180 million maximum for each project is not enough to get them built.

To meet the renewables target, new electricity grids are needed. Grids covering the North Sea and Mediterranean are essential, but not the only ones needed. In late September, the European Investment Bank (EIB) lent €300 million to lay an electricity cable between Ireland and Wales. This is due to be completed in 2012. The EIB also signed a loan of €200 million to build wind farms in various locations in Ireland, to help Ireland meet its 40% target of electricity from renewable by 2020. (Currently, Ireland gets 95% of its energy needs from imported fossil fuels – see Republic of Ireland – climate and energy statistics.) Ireland already gets 9% of its electricity from wind, putting it fourth behind only Denmark (19.3%), Spain (11.7%) and Portugal (11.3%) (see SEI: Ireland ranked 4th in world in use of electricity from wind energy). However, getting this up to 40% in a decade won’t be easy, so it is good that the Irish too can now focus on more important matters than the Lisbon Treaty.


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