April 25, 2008
The Commission’s controversial proposals to complete the liberalisation of the EU gas and electricity markets are entering a critical phase as Parliament prepares for a decisive vote in May. But the tight schedule is now leading some to speculate that an agreement could be delayed.MEPs on the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) are gearing up for a series of key votes in May that will pave the way for the full House to adopt a definitive position on the Commission proposal during a plenary vote in June.But with just weeks left before the vote, tension is building as no consensus is emerging, leading to intense speculation as to whether a compromise can be reached with member states represented in the EU Council of Ministers.Tight schedule EU heads of state and governments agreed to a tight schedule at their last summit in Brussels, saying that the 27-member bloc should try to reach a political agreement at a meeting of the Energy Council on 6 June.
France, which on 1 July assumes the rotating EU Presidency for six months, would then fine-tune the details before the end of the year.But with no compromise in sight, some are now starting to question that objective. “Everybody continues to say that a political agreement must be found in June. But waiting for the [ITRE Committee] vote on 6 May will not leave enough time,” warned a diplomat from one of the eight countries opposed to the Commission’s plans for full ‘ownership unbundling’ of energy companies.”This is very, very dangerous,” the diplomat added, because there is no way of predicting how the committee will vote, raising the prospect that Parliament will end up on a collision course with the Council and sink any chances of reaching an agreement at first reading.A ‘fourth way’ emerging in Parliament? Earlier this month, the Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) gave an example of such kind of unpredictability. In a non-binding opinion on 8 April, it gave its backing to the group of eight, saying that EU countries should be offered other options than just ownership unbundling. “To achieve an internal market for energy, we need to allow member states to choose whether they want to implement the European Commission unbundling proposal, or the ‘third way’, said MEPs Nickolay Mladenov and Andreas Schwab, who drafted the proposal for the centre-right EPP-ED group, the largest in Parliament.And in a move that surprised many observers, the committee proposed allowing EU countries to adopt the ‘third way’ and review the situation after a period of six years. “Our proposal, supported by the committee, is that six years after implementation, an independent assessment is undertaken to evaluate the next steps towards liberalisation,” Mladenov said.However, the outcome of the IMCO vote seems unacceptable to the Commission with one senior official telling EurActiv it would de facto delay any meaningful reform for another six years. Moreover, the committee backed this approach only for the electricity sector but was unable to reach the same agreement for the gas sector due to opposition from the liberal democrats (ALDE). “It is a pity that we were not able to have a coherent strategy for the whole Energy Package,” Schwab commented.Postponement ‘inevitable’ The eight countries opposed to the Commission’s plans are confident of their negotiating position since they hold a blocking minority in the Council. And the deep uncertainty surrounding the outcome of votes in Parliament, combined with a tight schedule that leaves little time for finding compromises, is leading some to speculate that the whole package could be put on ice.”For more than a month, the Parliament and the Commission are teaming up to slow down progress on the ‘third way’,” said the diplomat from one of the eight countries opposed to the Commission’s plans. “Some of us are now starting to say that we could live without this package.”But the Commission seems reluctant to find a compromise at this stage. “It is up to the Council and Parliament to decide what to do about the ‘third way’,” said Ferran Tarradellas, Commission spokesperson on energy.Speaking to EurActiv, he said the Commission would not bow to pressure: “We can always withdraw our proposal if the outcome of the negotiation is not acceptable to us,” Tarradellas warned.Piotr Zalewski, a spokesperson on energy for the European Parliament’s industry committee (ITRE), said the window of opportunity to reach a compromise is “far too narrow” as such kinds of negotiations usually take “a very long time”. Asked whether the vote in Parliament could be delayed, he said “that would be inevitable”.However, he did not rule out the possibility that an agreement in second reading could be reached before the end of the Parliament’s legislature, in April 2009. “It will all begin to fall into place in May,” Zalewski said.”We are in a game where things can evolve very quickly. This is an issue that has become very political,” the diplomat commented.
From EurActivAuthor : EMI