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Energy is one of the main challenges facing Europe today. The prospect of sharply rising energy prices and increasing dependence on imports makes our energy supply less reliable and jeopardises the economy as a whole. Key decisions are needed to slash our emissions and curb climate change. In the coming years huge investment will be needed to make Europe’s energy infrastructure fit for the future.

20-20-20 targets

The aim of EU energy policy is to ensure a safe, secure and sustainable energy supply at affordable prices. The policy is based on the EU's '20-20-20' targets, which have to be met by 2020:

  • 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels
  • 20% of energy consumed in the EU must come from renewable sources
  • 20% improvement in the EU's energy efficiency.

EU leaders have also offered to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by 30% if other major emitters in both developed and developing countries commit themselves to doing their fair share.

The EU’s long-term goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050, while securing supply and maintaining competitiveness. This is why EU leaders are currently putting in place a predictable energy and climate policy framework, to extend beyond 2020, which will provide certainty for investors, new opportunities for low-carbon technologies and jobs in the EU's energy sector. 

The 2030 energy and climate framework will drive continued progress towards a competitive and secure energy system to

  • ensure affordable energy for all
  • improve the security of EU energy supplies
  • reduce dependence on energy imports
  • create new opportunities for growth & jobs.

20% energy savings by 2020

Solar cells, an increasingly familiar sight.

Energy efficiency is a central objective for 2020. It is key to achieving our long-term energy and climate goals and the most cost-effective way to

  • cut emissions
  • improve energy security & competitiveness
  • keep energy costs down.

To increase efficiency, the EU is focusing on public transport and the construction industry, where potential for savings is highest. In addition, smart meters and EU energy labels for household appliances help consumers keep their energy use down.

Free movement of energy

Electricity and gas are transported in grids and pipelines that often cross national borders. Energy policy decisions made by one country inevitably affect others.

Ensuring that energy can be freely traded in the EU will help deliver:

  • competitive prices
  • more consumer choice
  • greater security of supply
  • security for investors in new renewable technologies & infrastructure.

Energy labels identify efficient appliances

An internal market that operates smoothly, with sufficient transmission and storage infrastructure, is the best guarantee of secure supplies, as energy follows the market and flows to where it is needed. The EU wants national energy markets to be fully integrated by 2014. 

Technological shift

Without a technological shift, the EU will not achieve its long-term ambitions to decarbonise the electricity and transport industries. The Strategic Energy Technology plan sets out a medium-term strategy for all sectors.

Development and demonstration projects for the main technologies, such as second-generation biofuels and smart grids, must be speeded up. EU researchers and companies should do more to stay at the cutting edge of the booming international market in energy technology, and step up cooperation with non-EU countries in specific technologies.

Strong international partnership

With over 500 million consumers, the EU energy market is the world’s largest regional market and energy importer. Several of the challenges the EU faces are shared by most countries and call for international cooperation:

  • climate change
  • access to oil & gas
  • technology development
  • energy efficiency.

International energy policy must pursue the shared goals of security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability. While relations with producing and transit countries are important, relations with large energy-consuming nations and, above all, emerging and developing countries, are of growing significance.



Manuscript updated in November 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series



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