Columnists: Brook Riley, Rockwool International

Published on: 10 Oct 2013

EU Commission under German industry's thumb?

In another ugly tale of corporate capture, German heavy industry and car interests are rumoured to have persuaded the European Commission's energy department to deliberately downplay the energy savings potential of their sectors. Their goal? A license to avoid efficiency upgrades and investments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The context is the Commission's modelling (‘Impact Assessment’) work to help decide the best choice of 2030 climate and energy policies. 2030 might seem far in the distance. But when you're trying to adapt Europe's economy to address climate change, and planning trillions of euros of investments, it’s right around the corner. And the stakes are enormous.

Here are the details as I understand them. The policy unit of the Commission's energy department (which is leading the 2030 modelling work) is said to be knowingly underestimating the EU's cost-effective energy savings potential. Such fiddling of the figures will greatly damage the economic case for a shift away from the business-as-usual high emissions from cars and heavy industry.

The unit is also said to be arguing that the energy savings that the Commission does recommend should be concentrated in the buildings sector. If so, this is disingenuous. There is huge potential in the buildings sector - nobody would deny that - but also in the transport, energy production and industry sectors (according to previous Commission analysis). In all sectors, a wide range of energy saving measures are available, from the cost-effective to the  prohibitively expensive. Manipulating the discussion so the EU has to achieve the lion's
share of its energy savings in buildings would mean that even the priciest options would  have to be used. The likely result is that energy savings would quickly get written off as an unaffordable luxury.

Apparently other tricks such as projecting that the benefits of energy savings investments will rapidly diminish (the so-called high discount rate argument) are also being used.

So why would the Commission be doing all this?

It's no secret the (German) energy commissioner Günther Oettinger is opposed to an energy savings target. A number of sources including senior members of his own department have confirmed he favours targets for buildings and / or energy intensity (a much softer option  which doesn't require cutting energy use or emissions). Unsurprisingly, this is also the option backed by German heavyweights like BASF and Bayer.

So maybe the policy unit is just carrying out the Commissioner’s wishes - which happen to coincide with those of certain powerful figures in German industry. Remember the embarrassing evidence of Oettinger's buddy-buddy links with Volkswagen ? Remember how  the German auto lobby co-opted Angela Merkel to kill an EU deal on tougher emissions standards for cars ?

The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Brook Riley