HC Deb 18 June 1997 vol 296 cc189-90W
Mr. Miller

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what was the outcome of the Energy Council meeting held on 27 May. [4832]

Mr. Battle

The Council considered several issues and received reports on matters of interest. I represented the UK.

The Council discussed gas market liberalisation and the renewable energy green paper. First, the gas liberalisation directive: progress was made which I believe puts us on course to achieve a liberalising measure. Discussion centred on three key issues; a framework for market opening, take or pay contracts and emergent markets and regions. I emphasised the Government's commitment to the single market and called for a positive commitment to gas liberalisation through an effective third party access regime as well as market opening so that customers can get the benefits of competition.

On the basis of the views expressed the presidency concluded that on market opening a qualitative approach with quantitative criteria could form the basis for a compromise. This should include power generators and large industrial customers as eligible customers; a minimum percentage opening of gas markets; the possibility of Member States limiting market opening above a certain level; and a progressive market opening. On take or pay contracts discussion focused on the possibility of derogating from the directive if problems arose with future contracts. The presidency concluded that there was support for a system characterised by transparency, well formulated criteria and the involvement of national independent gas authorities and the Commission in any such decisions. On emergent markets the presidency concluded that there was broad support for the proposal to allow Member States only now developing a gas market and those not directly connected to another EU system and having a single external supplier, to derogate from parts of the directive. On emergent regions there was support for further consideration of an approach whereby regions eligible for derogations were listed in an annex.

The presidency's proposals were recognised as a step in the right direction and a good basis for progress in further discussions at a possible second Council on 24 June.

Council also reached agreement on a resolution on the Commission's Green Paper on a renewable strategy. There was some discussion of the Commission's proposal for a Council decision concerning a multiannual programme for the promotion of renewable energy sources in the Community-ALTERNER II. I emphasised that the UK was very positive about renewable and keen to achieve increased targets for renewable energy electricity generation.

There was an exchange of views on the Commission communication on an overall view of energy policy. I welcomed the communication as a first step in the review of Community programmes with an energy component and supported the concept of a framework programme to provide greater transparency for the citizens of Europe and value for money. In order to dovetail with this framework, I suggested ALTERNER II should be limited to a tighter two year programme. The Commission is expected to present a further communication before the end of 1997.

Council conclusions were agreed on climate change and energy policy. They recognised the contribution of actions towards climate change commitments particularly in the development of a renewables strategy, energy efficiency standards, long-term agreements with industry and an electricity industry initiative to address environmental concerns. The conclusions call for further analysis, the preparation of a post-Kyoto action programme and a strategy for the promotion of combined heat and power.

The Commission will submit a revised proposal on energy objectives which will take into account the European Parliament's comments.

The Council noted Commission progress reports on the external dimension of energy networks, the Energy Charter Treaty, the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and information on agreements with industry on energy savings and on co-generation.

The first structured dialogue on energy with the countries of central and eastern Europe (CEECs) focused on energy efficiency and Trans European energy Networks (TENs). CEEC ministers outlined the measures they were taking to increase energy efficiency, develop renewable and meet EU standards. The progress being made with the help of EU programmes, particularly in the areas of TENs, was welcomed and it was agreed that co-operation should continue.