Fighting energy poverty in Europe: the next steps

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(27 June 2018 - Right to Energy coalition) After a year and a half of negotiations, political deals have now been reached for 3 EU energy files, with a renewables law, an energy savings law and a Governance law, defining how the EU will implement climate action.

For a year now, the Right to Energy coalition, bringing together unions, social, environmental, and health organisations, has been asking governments to seize the opportunity to link social and climate justice, by including energy poverty meaningfully in these legislative package.

Energy poverty is still rising in Europe, after a sharp increase after the 2008 financial crisis 10 years ago. It is due to a combination of high energy prices (up 70% since 2004), inefficient homes, and stagnating incomes. And faced with this social emergency, all across Europe, people are organising to demand political action, provide solutions on the ground for people and initiate solidarity programmes.

The EU has a role to play. A month ago, 68 national, European and international organisations called on governments to recognize the role of European energy policy in tackling energy poverty and to include measures to alleviate it in new energy laws.

Up for debate were:

  • an ambitious energy efficiency target, to boost renovation programmes across the continent and provide everyone with a decent home;
  • Measures to target energy poor households in renovation efforts, as they need the most support;
  • Recognition of the role of community energy projects in alleviating energy poverty;
  • A European definition of energy poverty, to pin down the issue once and for all.

Due to resistance of national governments, most of these demands fell on deaf ears. Warm words prevailed instead of action, as governments resisted proposals of the EU Parliament: only a recognition of community energy’s role was achieved. The share of measures to target savings efforts to vulnerable households were left undefined, leaving the door open for inaction.

Action on energy poverty is urgent, as is climate change. Words alone will not suffice: they achieve nothing for the millions of energy poor in Europe.

During the Energy Council of June 11, three countries expressed their wish to include energy poverty in the package at the eleventh hour — joining previous calls of Portugal. Luxembourg regretted a “missed opportunity” — but it is not too late yet. EU governments can still take a powerful step to guarantee access to energy for all: ban disconnections. Negotiations open today, and are expected to be challenging.

Energy is a human right, and has been recognized as such in the European pillar of social rights. It’s time for governments to enforce it. As a European coalition, we will continue fighting to make it happen.

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