European energy ministers meeting in Brussels in early December fixed funding for the first two years of the five-year Altener II renewable energy support programme at ECU 22 million. While representing a substantial increase on the total budget of ECU 40 million allocated to the first five year Alterner programme, which expired at the end of 1997, it is nevertheless a severe cut in the ECU 30 million funding proposed by the Commission in March. According to the Commission, the amount approved "reflects insufficiently the high priority the actions in favour of renewables should receive, and the [Commission] considers that this amount does not prejudge either the discussions concerning the 1999 budget or the budget of the energy framework programme," a spokesperson told a reporter from the electronic newsletter ENDS Daily after the meeting. Others are more phlegmatic. Eryl McNally, British member of the European Parliament's renewable energy committee, is relieved that the funding has been approved at all in the present climate at the EU. She is pragmatic about the budget cut. "It is the mood of the moment here," she comments. "As people try to prepare for EMU [European Monetary Union], anything that is not considered a priority is getting cut." The timing of the announcement, to coincide with the Kyoto climate summit, was considered by some to be particularly damaging. In a statement preceding the Brussels energy council meeting, environmental group, Climate Network Europe, described the Commission's ECU 30 million budget proposal as encouraging but insufficient. "If the Council waters down even this low budget this could be extremely harmful for Kyoto," the group said. Proposed on the initiative of energy commissioner Christos Papoutsis, Altener II is scheduled to begin this month and will continue the promotion work of its predecessor, though some plans will presumably now have to be dropped. It will also reinforce the action plan outlined in the Commission's renewable energy White Paper, taking "new initiatives aimed at mobilising private investments and facilitating the market penetration of renewables, implementation, follow-up and monitoring of the European Union strategy on renewable energy sources," according to Commission sources.
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