29 November 2012
EESC president argues for urgent EU action to eradicate energy poverty
The EU must step up its efforts to combat fuel poverty which affects a growing number of EU citizens, according to Staffan Nilsson, president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). He also attributed energy price rises to incomplete internal market integration.
His call came at Tuesday's conference organised by the EESC and ELISAN, the European Local Inclusion and Social Action Network.
Mr Nilsson said that no country in the EU had been spared rising energy prices. In Latvia, for example, costs had increased by 27% in February 2011, while in France 42% of households had cut back on heating their homes to save on energy bills last year. In Germany prices were expected to go up by 10 to 15% again this year.
The EESC president called for determined action at EU level to combat energy poverty: the EU could not ignore a problem that affected up to 125 million Europeans. Mr Nilsson reiterated that adopting an EU-wide definition of the phenomenon should be the first step in recognising and mapping the issue. This had to be flexible and not a rigid, one-size-fits-all definition. He added: "Rather than opt for a top-down definition of fuel poverty, the authorities should be given the latitude to offer tailor-made solutions".
The EESC has consistently argued that, in parallel, a consistent and comprehensive social and energy policy framework should be put in place at EU level. It could include an assessment and dissemination of good practice and further common targeted measures.
Stéphane Buffetaut, president of the EESC transport and energy (TEN) section, called for advantage to be taken of untapped energy efficiency potential, which in his view was "a cost-effective way to achieve both social policy and energy objectives".
In the same vein, Remo Sernagiotto, President of Elisan and Minister for Social Services in the Veneto Region called for the EU and Member States to invest in energy-efficient technologies and take energy-saving measures. He said that project bonds should be used for investment in energy.
Reduction of excessive energy consumption by public buildings and private homes would generate energy savings of 30-40% by 2020, Mr Sernagiotto pointed out. "In the short term this would boost social cohesion and ease fuel poverty".
This view was further developed by Antonio Cancian, MEP, who noted that raising awareness of efficient energy use could go a long way towards reducing energy bills: "The lack of awareness on the part of energy consumers must be addressed quickly".
Jan Panek from the European Commission reminded participants that the Commission-led Citizen's Energy Forum, also called London Forum, had been working to raise consumer awareness for the past five years.
Mr Nilsson added: "If we make sure that the most vulnerable can benefit from the lowest market rate and at the same time work to raise their energy awareness, in many cases we will be able to avoid social security schemes coming into play".
He concluded by reasserting the EESC's commitment to a stronger effort to address fuel poverty at EU level.
In the past the EESC has adopted a number of opinions on energy poverty and related issues. In a 2010 opinion it looked at the impact of energy liberalisation and the economic crisis on fuel poverty, while last year it tackled the EU's new energy policy. Given recent developments, the Committee is likely to adopt a new opinion on energy poverty in 2013.
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