HC Deb 18 November 1998 vol 319 cc653-4W
Dr. Starkey

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Energy Council meeting on 13 November. [60653]

Mr. Battle

The Council had a full agenda of matters of interest to the United Kingdom.

I am particularly pleased to report that the Council agreed to revise the Oil Stocks Directive which requires all member States to hold contingency oil stocks. The revised Directive, which will come into force on 1 January 2000, introduces important amendments including a strengthening of support for bilateral agreements, clearer definitions and simplified reporting times. As a result of the revision, the United Kingdom, as an exporter of oil, will be eligible for a reduction in its stocking obligation. This change could lead to savings of around £10 million per annum for the British oil industry.

The Council also adopted the basic decision on the Energy Framework Programme. This multi-annual programme brings together Community spending programmes in the field of energy. In addition to the basic Decision, the Council adopted four of the specific instruments—ETAP (shared studies and analyses), SYNERGY (international co-operation), CARNOT (clean and efficient use of solid fuels), SURE (safe transport of nuclear materials and safeguards). The Council reached an informal political agreement on the remaining programmes, ALTERNER (renewable energy) and SAVE (energy conservation), pending the opinion of the European Parliament. Views on the appropriate budget varied between Member States but after negotiation a total financial reference amount of 170 mecu (£119 million) over five years was agreed, to be reviewed after three years.

Another important element of the Council concerned a number of energy and environment issues.

In response to the call made at the Cardiff European Council, the Council agreed a Report on the integration of environmental objectives into energy policy. This Report, along with those being prepared by the Transport and Agriculture Councils, will be submitted to the Vienna Council in December.

The Energy Council held an open debate on renewable energy. I stressed the need to consider the best way to support renewable energy within the internal energy market which included cross-border trade. I reported on our positive practical programme of support for renewables to achieve our 10 per cent. target. I called for national support schemes to have the key elements of competition, flexibility and transparency such as those contained in the UK's Non Fossil Fuel Obligation. Also there was the need to develop clear and transparent guidelines for the connection, operation and commercial terms for small plants. To ensure this work is taken forward, I called for the establishment of a task force bringing together the Commission and Member States to co-ordinate efforts, exchange experiences and share problems in order to keep up the momentum of promoting renewable energy sources at European level.

The Council adopted a Resolution on Energy Efficiency which complements the work on renewables. It recognises that more energy saving measures (such as minimum standards, best practice and voluntary agreements) are needed, inter alia, to enable the Community and Member States to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments. The resolution proposes indicative energy efficiency targets and calls on the Commission to produce an action plan.

The Council received information from the Commission on the development of the single market in electricity and Trans-European energy Networks. It received a report on the Energy Charter Treaty and, in this connection, agreed a political statement on transit.