The new energy market design, a new deal for energy consumers and energy efficiency labelling were part of an ENERGY package of three opinions voted on by the European Economic and Social Committee at its plenary session on 20 January 2016.
Following the COP21 agreement adopted in late 2015, the main focus in the current energy debate is how the transition to a low-carbon economy can be practically achieved in different countries. A key issue is the design of energy markets in terms of rules, infrastructure, and market participants. A new energy market design will ensure that the shift to renewables is universally beneficial while at the same time keeping the lights on for everyone. The European Economic and Social Committee acknowledged that the European Commission’s recently published public consultation paper is a step in the right direction with many proposed measures potentially helping renewables, consumers, and Europe’s regions. However, according to the EESC’s opinion on a new energy market design (Rapporteur: Lutz Ribbe, Various Interests Group), the EU will need to take more action – it must ensure that energy prices become more transparent and reflect actual generation and external costs; it must enable consumers to become active market participants by providing them with adequate information and resources; and it must remove obstacles to market access for the rising number of local self-generation and self-supply initiatives.
Consumers and their central and proactive role in energy markets are the main focus of the EESC’s opinion Delivering a New Deal for Energy Consumers (Rapporteur: Lutz Ribbe, Various Interests Group). The EESC agrees with the Commission on the need to put the “consumer at the core of the Energy Union” – however in order for consumers to participate actively in the energy market they need access to smart technologies, information, training, and finance. Consumers should have the freedom to play an active role in the energy system by having the right to choose and switch easily between both energy producers and distributors. Moreover, consumers should be given the opportunity to become “prosumers” – i.e. also produce and sell energy if the appropriate infrastructure, know-how and a regulatory environment are put in place – thus opening up completely new business opportunities. The EESC opinion points out that giving consumers more rights and opportunities comes with increased responsibilities for them, too. These responsibilities cannot be imposed but must be learned and developed in practice by all stakeholders. The opinion points out that the growing social problem of energy poverty needs to be addressed by means of appropriate social policy measures.
The EESC also made a series of recommendations to ensure effective and uniform energy efficiency labelling across Europe in its opinion Framework for energy efficiency labelling (Rapporteur: Emilio Fatovic, Workers’ Group) in response to the Commission’s proposal. Product characteristics should actually correspond to those on the label, there should be stricter controls on products on sale, and a common Europe-wide system of penalties should be introduced. Labels should also include other consumer information, such as the product’s energy consumption and its minimum life expectancy – this will make energy products truly comparable in terms of cost and will discourage planned obsolescence. Particular attention should be paid to products imported from third countries, to protect against unfair competition and fraud. Another area that must be closely monitored is online commerce – this is an area that is neglected and where energy labels are not always displayed. The Union will have to do everything possible to make high efficiency products accessible to the most deprived social groups – this will be one way of dealing with the problem of energy poverty affecting over 50 million citizens across the entire EU.
The European Economic and Social Committee represents the various economic and social components of organised civil society. It is an institutional consultative body established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Its consultative role enables its members, and hence the organisations they represent, to participate in the EU decision-making process. The Committee has 350 members from across Europe, who are appointed by the Council of the European Union.