Journalist sparks EU energy funds row

Commission rushes to deny press report that Altener, Save, programmes to be scrapped

Howls of protest erupted today after a British newspaper claimed the European Commission was "secretly planning" to abolish EU funding programmes for energy efficiency and renewable energy. European Commission officials denied the report at a regular midday briefing and also in front of the European Parliament's environment committee. Members of the industry and energy committee are due to question EU energy commissioner Loyola de Palacio over the claim tomorrow.

In an article published in yesterday's Independent on Sunday newspaper, award-winning environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean reported obtaining confidential documents revealing that the European Commission "wants to "abandon" the EU energy efficiency programme Save and the renewable energy programme Altener. New funding to 2002 for both schemes were agreed by governments and MEPs late last year (ENDS Daily 10 December 1999).

European environmental groups, MEPs and energy conservation firms were outraged by the prospect of Save and Altener's demise. "We condemn and deplore the proposal by the European Commission to abandon Europe's only energy efficiency programme," said industry association Euroace, today.

According to a spokesperson for Ms de Palacio, however, there is no plan to scrap either of the schemes. Gilles Gantelet told ENDS Daily that the internal documents obtained by the newspaper were scenarios drawn up this summer of what would follow in the hypothetical situation of an enforced 5%, 10% or 15% reduction in the Commission's staff numbers, currently at around 20,000. The so-called "peer review" documents had been used by the Commission in a bid to secure extra staffing levels, Mr Gantelet said. Speaking to the European Parliament's environment committee today, a Commission official described the newspaper article behind the row as "very distorted".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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