Will Christmas come on time for EU energy future?

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The European Union (EU) has a seven-year budget that sets an overall cap on total expenditures over the period, with ‘sub-caps’ for the main budget chapters. Because food prices have been higher than expected in 2008, the payment of EU agricultural subsidies has been much lower than budgeted. “Underspent,” this money would normally return to the member states’ budgets, but European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has recently proposed that in 2008 and 2009, a total of €5bn would be reallocated from agriculture to energy projects in the following proportion:

  • 2.5bn on energy interconnectors between countries
  • €1.5bn on carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects
  • €1bn on high-speed broadband access in remote and rural areas

The proposals have been framed as part of the effort to boost public spending in the EU to revive the economy, but member states that are net contributors to the EU budget first want a greater reassurance about the specifics of these projects in order to guarantee an added value of the money being spent by the EU instead of returning to national treasuries. For 2008 “underspending” to be reallocated, a deal must be reached by the end of the year.

The proposals testify to the increasing momentum for a general redirection of EU funds to projects of truly common European interests with future benefits, instead of backward-looking subsidies for big farms. For more details about this system, see the main European affairs newsweekly, the European Voice.