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Barroso targets European industrial revival

  • 2014-01-23
  • By Dorian Ziedonis, BRUSSELS

An aggressive green energy and climate package proposal meant to boost Europe’s industrial competitiveness by 2030 was announced by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels on Wednesday, Jan. 22.

European politicians are worried over a decline in manufacturing’s role in overall economic activity – and with it the loss of jobs, skills and innovation that manufacturing provides.

The 2030 strategy, if approved, will contribute to Europe’s economic growth through “reductions in inputs of gas and oil,” much of which is imported, said Barroso in a press conference at the European Commission. This will provide a stable environment, with “long term certainty,” in which companies can invest.

In what will be pleasing to the ears of European business, the EC president boasted that “the European Union is the defender of industry.”

The new proposals target a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, relative to 1990 levels, and energy consumption from renewables of at least 27 percent by 2030. Barroso added that industry backs him on the proposals: many EU companies already lead, globally, in green technology, he said. 

The proposals do not affect the existing 2020 energy strategy. 

Reaching these targets will not be easy, admitted Barroso, saying they are “ambitious, but realistic.” Member states “remain free to set their own national renewables goals – as long as they remain in the [overall] EU rules,” he explained. He calls this a “bottoms-up approach,” giving more flexibility to the member states. This will also mean more cooperation between member states in achieving these goals.

Barroso also acknowledges that some member states will not want to work for the 40 percent target. He counters, though, that in the run-up to the 2007 agreement, the EC was also skeptical. 

And increasing requirements for more costly green energy amidst the climate change debate might seem to contradict promises to improve the competitiveness of EU’s business environment. However, Barroso pointed out that under the 2020 program, emissions are down, from 1999, while growth is up. “We are delivering,” he said.

EC Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger, speaking at the press conference, stressed that increasing energy efficiency and diversity are important keys to the proposal. There is help, he says: several EU programs, such as Horizon2020, provide funding for energy research, which could develop “better technologies.”

Infrastructure, across borders, also needs to be improved, or built. And a major part to realizing the 2030 goals will be to complete the EU internal energy market. This would serve to lower the high energy prices European industry pays, compared with what American and Asian companies pay. 

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard spoke at the conference of a “new chapter in a low carbon economy, one where the economy, energy transition and climate change efforts have to go hand-in-hand.”
It will require “extensive efforts to get to the 40 percent [number].”

Europe is forging ahead in efforts to move towards a greener economy. This involves risks, in terms of industrial competitiveness, if energy alternatives don’t turn out as expected. And though some major economies are backtracking on progress already made, noted Barroso, the Europeans are sticking to their program. Of course, “the world would be a better place if all countries would do [what we’re doing],” noted Hedegaard.