Saturday, January 19, 2008

Piggy in the middle

With the news having drifted out that an "internal European Commission study" has criticised the EU plan for a mandatory ten percent quota of biofuels in transport, what is fascinating to see is how the EU is trying to disown its own report.

It must be acutely embarrassing for the commission to have the study find that the costs of biofuels outweigh their benefits, as it was produced by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission's in-house scientific body based in Ispra on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy.

Tomes such as this are usually published immediately in the institute’s website but, up to press, there is no sign of the publications, despite it having been leaked to a number of press sources, including AFP and The Financial Times.

The European Commission spokesman on energy is trying to hold the line, claiming that the study was "just a working paper", even though it was actually produced for the commission by an institute wholly owned and financed by the EU which states that its mission is "to support European policies".

All this is suggestive of a right royal row going on in the commission in the run up to the publication of the commission's emission plans on Wednesday, with some indications that key figures have taken fright at the extra $33-65 billion the switch to biofuels will cost between now and 2020, if the plans go ahead.

Nevertheless, the commission's energy spokesman is saying that the 10 percent biofuels objective for vehicles remains, telling a press conference that, "Economically speaking there is only one option, that is biofuels … It is good for the environment, it is good for transport and it is good for European agriculture".

The Greens have already declared their opposition to the scheme which now puts the commission firmly alongside the CEO of General Motors who has just announced that his company considers the days of petrol engines are numbered, saying that the switch to biofuels such as ethanol and electric cars is now inevitable,

This is creating a delicious situation as the commission is now open to accusations that its is aligning itself with big business against the Greens. Especially entertaining is that fact that the latter are protesting that the EU’s climate policy is "too negative", demanding a cut of 30 percent by 2020 instead of the 20 percent on the table while business representatives are squealing that the current proposals are set to drive major swathes of industry offshore.

Ironically, the EU has always regarded the "environment" as is strong suit, the need for “cross-border” action being used to justify its existence. But, as the opposing interests get more and more vociferous, the commission is not obviously gaining from its advocacy of Green issues. Instead, it is managing to aggravate just about everybody, ending up as piggy in the middle.

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