Though power has steadily flowed from national capitals to Brussels over the past two decades in the European Union, there have been key areas which the EU can’t touch according to its treaties. These include diplomacy, defence, education, healthcare, energy and taxation.
Today, the European Commission risked crossing these red lines by proposing more EU control over the latter two areas.
As part of an annual review of the bloc’s ‘Energy Union’ – plans to unite the countries disjointed energy systems – the Commission set out plans to end the requirement for a unanimous vote by all 28 countries in the EU to make changes to energy taxation rules. Under the proposal, such votes would move to qualified majority voting, which gives each country voting power based on its population. This is the system used for most EU lawmaking outside of the red line areas.
Speaking at a press conference, EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete called the requirement for unanimity “absolutely outdated”.
“In the last years it’s become very urgent to align energy union objectives to the taxation framework,” he said. “For example, the polluter pays principle doesn’t exist in the world of energy taxation. We are giving €5 billion of subsidies a year to fossil fuels. And there’s no system of taxation that incentivises renewables”.
The Commission has tried several times to change the EU’s Energy Taxation Directive, but each time it has been vetoed by fossil-fuel-reliant countries such as Poland, even though it could pass under qualified majority rules.
“We can’t have the most ambitious framework to develop an energy union, and at the same time have a palaeolithic energy taxation system,” he fumed. “This is unbelievable!”
However Cañete noted that since the current term of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is ending later this year, it will be for the next president to decide whether to pull the trigger on this plan. He said the change could be made without altering the EU’s treaties, by using new “passarelle” clauses introduced by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.
Candidates running in May’s European election to replace Juncker as Commission President reacted positively to the idea.
“We very much agree that the unanimity rule in taxation matters is a big problem, because all tax files get stuck in the Council including the energy taxation proposal from 2011,” said Bas Eickhout, a Commission President candidate from the European Green Party. “The EU Commission is right to raise the issue but the proposal is not a really solution, as the passarelle clause to get to majority voting in the Council still requires unanimity, which is very unlikely to happen.”
Eickhout criticised the Commission for remaining silent in its annual review about the fact that the Council of 28 national EU leaders is currently blocking the adoption of a Commission plan to decarbonise the EU by 2050.
That adoption also requires unanimity, and is currently being blocked by Poland, with the tentative support of Germany.
Cañete outlined his vision for the energy union when he first took office at the start of the Juncker Commission in 2014. The goal is to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas by increasing interconnections between countries and improve national policy coherence. A unified energy system, it is hoped, will also enable the EU to meet its ambitious climate goals.
The commissioner declared that he has achieved an energy union during his mandate, but there is still further to go. “Looking back, I thought we would never be able to accomplish so much within this mandate,” he said. “Europe is still facing a number of crises. But despite these crises, we have created an energy union, and that has encountered little opposition in the parliament and council.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding