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Target fatigue


Tuesday 6 November 2012

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said a curious thing at a Clean Transport event last night hosted by European Voice and Euronews.

In a discussion about targets for CO2 emissions, he said that the last Commission had big enthusiasm for targets, but not realism about how to reach them. He then listed the dispute with the US and China over inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) as an example.

The comment was interesting for two reasons. For one, it's the closest I've heard a Commissioner come to breaking ranks on the aviation issue – in which the EU is locked in a bitter trade war with third countries over whether the EU has the right to charge third-country airlines for emissions that take place outside European airspace, if the plane lands or takes off in the EU. So far, the Commission has maintained a united front in defending the ETS.

But perhaps more interestingly, his comment about targets suggests a certain anxiety I've been sensing from others at the Commission about the fact that the EU is about to miss some pretty significant targets it set for itself.

Two of the articles I am writing for this week's European Voice are about the EU missing targets set in years past. A communication on the internal energy market coming out next week is expected to conclude that member states will not meet a 2014 deadline to liberalise the EU energy market – a target set in 2009 legislation. Another communication issued next week is expected to conclude that member states will not meet a 2015 deadline to restore European waters to good ecological status.

The list of recent and upcoming targets missed by member states is a long one. An October deadline for implementation of the European Electronic Toll Service will be missed. A December deadline for measures to complete the single market will also be missed. In climate and energy, legislation being adopted today will probably be unable to meet targets that were set five years ago. The energy efficiency directive, watered-down by member states, cannot meet the goal set in 2007 to increase energy efficiency by 20% by 2020.

Kallas himself is no stranger to missed targets. In recent months he has chastised member states for their inaction in completing the European Single Sky of combined multi-national airspace blocs. Member states will not miss the December deadline to have the blocs completed.

So is the blame for the missed targets to be laid at the door of member states who have shown a lack of political will? Or is the blame instead to be placed on an over-eager Commission and European Parliament that, between the years of 2004 to 2010, set targets that weren't realistic?

Commissioner Kallas seemed to be suggesting the latter. He should know, as he was himself part of the previous Commission college - though in a largely non-policy capacity as commissioner of administrative affairs.

But member states also signed off on all of these legislative targets, and they are now failing to live up to their commitments. And that has led to some understandable frustration. It's also led to some understandable realism. The Commission seems much more hesitant these days to propose new targets, probably because they think that they will be rejected by today's European Council.

It was the Council that seemed to be the biggest punching bag at last night's event, with representatives of both industry and NGOs decrying their lack of political will. Kallas and MEP Said El Khadraoui seemed none too pleased with member states either.

Today's Commission and Parliament may be approaching targets with more realism than their forbears, but they don't seem to be doing it happily. 

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Observations and comment from European Voice's environment reporter.

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