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INVESTIGATION ENDS IN CRITICAL REPORT

The results of an investigation by members of the European Parliament into the Joule selection process were submitted to the European Commission on October 11. Though the seven page report establishes what happened, it sheds little light on why Commission staff re-evaluated projects in an additional procedure called "rating harmonisation," or why there was a severe budget shortfall as a result of this process.

The investigation, conducted by members of the Parliament's Committee for Energy Research Technology (CERT), was headed by Irish MEP, Eryl McNally. Although clearly dissatisfied with the lack of transparency of the Commission's procedure, the investigating team seems willing to accept the Commission's promise to restore the full renewables budget to this round of Joule funding. There is no indication that Parliament will be pressing for an official Commission of Inquiry. If that had happened no Joule contracts would have been issued.

McNally's report does not always tread gently. "The harmonisation process neglects the partition of funds between renewable energies and the other sectors as fixed in the programme. The Commission needs to respect this distribution of funds," she states. Referring to the alteration of the consensus reports of the expert committees, the report comments that it "does not seem to be an appropriate way to harmonise the gradings." However, neither does it "seem to be appropriate to qualify the alterations of consensus reports as falsifications," although "it is questionable whether they still reflected the evaluations" of the experts.

The report issues a number of recommendations, most of which are concerned with ensuring full transparency of Commission procedure in the future. The opinions of experts should be clearly divorced from those of Commission officials, states the report, and DGXII should be willing to further explain the basis on which "rating harmonisation" thresholds were set. Projects receiving the same number of points often ended with different grades, with some fossil fuel projects going through which had fewer points than some rejected renewables projects, for example.

In a thinly veiled warning that CERT will be keeping a close eye on DGXII's restoration of the budget over the next three months, McNally concludes: "The Parliament has a duty to ensure that the joint views of both the Council and Parliament in expenditure apportionment is largely observed and should continue to monitor the Commission's expressed wish to rectify the shortfall as rapidly as possible."

In late October the Commission had not yet reported back to CERT, as requested.

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