HC Deb 19 February 1996 vol 272 cc32-5W
Ms Quin

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the outcome of the informal Energy Council held on 3 and 4 February in Bologna. [15092]

Mr. Eggar

[holding answer 16 February 1996]: I represented the United Kingdom at the informal Council in Bologna. It is a rule of procedure within the European Union that informal councils cannot reach decisions or adopt text. The main matters discussed at the meeting were as follows:

The Council considered the latest position on the proposed electricity liberalisation directive and the Italian presidency compromise proposal. This involves fixing a percentage of electricity markets to be opened to competition with member states deciding how this is to be achieved. I called for the maximum possible opening, as in the United Kingdom, to ensure full economic benefit for consumers and for European competitiveness. There was no consensus on the appropriate percentage or whether such opening should be achieved in a single step or over a period of time. The presidency concluded that further work was required at official level.

The Council considered the Commission's energy policy White Paper in the light of possible future trends and rising energy consumption. The presidency called for new policies and common objectives, including completion of the single market in energy. I welcomed the White Paper's emphasis on the single market but expressed my frustration that there was a call for new instruments when there was so little progress on electricity liberalisation. Member states welcomed the White Paper but views differed in emphasis. Further work will be required at official level and each proposal in the annexed work programme will be subject to the usual procedures.

The presidency presented its views on the need for increased energy co-operation with southern Mediterranean countries in the light of growing demographic pressures in the region. In particular, the president saw a need to improve investor protection and enhance development of energy networks. The presidency also announced meetings with the southern Mediterranean countries at official ministerial level.

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