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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 January 2007, 16:18 GMT
EU plans 'industrial revolution'

A windmill cafe seen in front of the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant in Doel, Belgium (file picture)
The EU wants a radical shift towards renewable energy
The European Commission has urged its members to sign up to an unprecedented common energy policy, unveiling a plan to diversify the bloc's energy sources.

Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said it was time for a "post-industrial revolution" which would see Europe slash greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020.

But political as well as environmental concerns should spur change, he noted.

EU vulnerability as an oil importer was thrown into sharp relief this week when Russia's row with Belarus hit supplies.

Binding targets

This is the first step towards a common energy policy, says the BBC's Europe editor Mark Mardell.

There are three central pillars to the proposed integrated EU energy policy.

  • A true internal energy market
  • Accelerating the shift to low-carbon energy
  • Energy efficiency through the 20% target by 2020

Graph of EU energy use

In addition to the 20% of all EU energy that should come from renewable power by 2020, 10% of vehicle fuel should come from biofuels, said EU energy chief Andris Piebalgs.

The EU wants to make these targets to be binding for the first time, he said.

It also wants to make sure all new power stations are carbon neutral in 13 years - they should be built in such a way that carbon can be captured and buried - as well as ensuring there is a big increase in renewable power like wind and wave energy.

"We need new policies to face a new reality - policies which maintain Europe's competitiveness, protect our environment and make our energy supplies more secure," said Mr Barroso.

"Europe must lead the world into a new, or maybe one should say post-industrial revolution - the development of a low-carbon economy."

Without such investment and energy efficiency measures, the EU report predicts that EU energy imports will rise from 50% of consumption to 65% by 2030, requiring increased reliance on potentially unpredictable sources.

Internal market

Although energy has been a driving factor of the EU, which was born as the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, policy has on the whole remained a national issue.

95% of Germans believe that energy security is the top priority for the EU

The EU wants to fully open up the existing energy market to enable half a billion citizens to get their electricity or gas from anywhere else in Europe.

Mr Barroso proposed stopping power generation and power supply being owned by the same company, which is very controversial in France and Germany.

"We have two points of disagreement with the commission, which are the possible eventual abolition of controlled prices and the question of separating asset ownership by integrated operators," AFP cited an official source at the French industry ministry as saying.

Meanwhile the commission's proposal to reduce emissions was lambasted by one environmental pressure group.

Better to adapt to the climate change then fight it
David Zimlin, Dunedin, Florida, USA

"If the EU is serious about tackling climate change it must make far greater cuts in its carbon dioxide emissions. The proposed 20% cut does not demonstrate any intention to stay below the two degree limit," Catherine Pearce, the group's international climate co-ordinator, said.

The package of measures will have to be approved by European governments before it can come into force.

EU leaders will debate the commission's proposals at a summit in March.

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