HC Deb 17 May 1999 vol 331 cc253-4W
Mr. Jim Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the outcome of the Energy Council held in Brussels on 11 May; and if he will make a statement. [84067]

Mr. Battle

The Council considered several matters of interest to the United Kingdom.

On renewables, our strategy was singled out for praise. I called on the Commission to maintain momentum in the promotion of renewable energy by coming forward with a directive giving a framework for fair access of renewables to the internal electricity market. It should minimise distortions, ensure transparency, provide flexibility to distinguish between different kinds of renewables and promote cost-effectiveness and price competitiveness.

The Commission made two presentations on the internal energy market. The first concerned progress on implementation of the gas and electricity directives and the second harmonisation measures in electricity. I welcomed the implementation report stressing the importance of developing a real single market in energy (rather than 15 national markets) to enable consumers to reap the benefits that competition can bring in terms of lower prices and better service. I pointed out that agreement on the electricity and gas directives was only the first step. This must be followed by effective and timely implementation in all member states. I expressed disappointment that implementation had been delayed in some cases, urging those member states to put the necessary legal frameworks in place as a matter of urgency, emphasising the potential benefits to consumers. I also pointed out the importance of a level playing field where everyone plays by the rules; it was not acceptable for companies to compete in the markets of others member states while being protected from competition in their own.

I also welcomed the Commission's harmonisation report which highlighted the main areas where obstacles to the single market persist, such as arrangements for cross-border trading. I emphasised the need to get on with this work urgently so that we can have workable and effective arrangements by the time of the next Council.

I suggested the Council should regularly review progress towards achieving a single market against specific indicators, such as the number of new market entrants or prices. This will provide a measure of how far consumers are really being offered a competitive supply and benefiting from lower prices. The Presidency's summary supported this approach including the need to take the social dimension into account in liberalising the internal market in electricity. The Commission accordingly undertook to provide regular progress reports to Council.

The Energy Council held an orientation debate concerning possible elements for inclusion in a strategy on the integration of environmental aspects and sustainable development into energy policy. Ministers had a useful exchange of views which the Presidency summarised.

The Council also adopted conclusions aimed at reducing standby losses from electrical appliances which encourages an integrated approach—building a consensus and partnership with business on priorities and targets—developing a combination of voluntary and regulatory measures at Community level.

The Council received information from the Commission on the Energy Charter Treaty, the campaign for take-off on renewables and on progress towards minimising the impact of the millennium bug.

A full press release on the outcome of the Council can be found on the Council Secretariat web site at http://ue.eu.int/newsroom.

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