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Public participation as part of the EU Climate Governance Regulation could help transition to a cleaner, more efficient energy future

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The European Parliament recently voted in favour of strengthening public engagement in national discussions on energy and climate policies.

This decision formed part of talks on the “EU Climate and Energy Governance Regulation”, a proposal for a new law put forward by the European Commission as part of the Clean Energy Package.

This new law seeks to create a better cooperation between the Commission and Member States towards achieving EU climate and energy 2030 targets and 2050 objectives. To do this, it aims to streamline and harmonise national planning and reporting obligations, as well as set relevant monitoring and compliance mechanisms.

The initial proposal put forward by the Commission contained provisions on public participation and consultation. According to their proposal:

  • The public shall be given early and effective opportunities to participate in the preparation of National Energy and Climate Plans (NECP);
  • A summary of public views shall be submitted to the Commission together with the draft NECP;
  • Consultations undertaken in accordance with the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive 2001/42/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environments, shall be deemed to satisfy the obligations to consult the public under the Governance Regulation

Power to the public

The European Parliament proposed to enlarge the scope of public consultations (including consultations of Long-Term Strategies) and to add certain participation principles (e.g. ensuring transparency, allowing a sufficient period for consultations etc.).

In addition, they suggested creating national “Multilevel Climate and Energy Dialogue Platforms”.

These National Dialogue Platforms would provide forums for wide discussions in each Member State on the future of the country’s climate and energy policies. They would allow the public to express their views on all aspects of climate and energy policies and on a wide variety of related issues. If properly structured, Dialogue Platforms could contribute to broad, well-balanced public participation so that different interests are equally represented. They would result in more than a mere consultation but open the floor to a much broader and engaging exchange.

By enlarging participation, the Dialogue Platforms would also increase transparency and promote wider understanding and acceptance of moving to cleaner, more efficient energy.

Difference of opinions

The Council, compared the European Parliament, has taken a more restrictive stance. The Council’s ‘general approach’ on the Governance Regulation does not mention the national Dialogue Platforms or any similar structures.

The Council’s amendment provides that the public could be consulted not only on draft plans – as proposed by the Commission – but on final plans as well. Despite specifying that the consultation on final plans should happen well ahead of their adoption, this would still have an impact on the Commission’s involvement.

Consultation in this way could cause the Commission to exclude the results of consultations in its assessment of a draft plan.

Member States in the Council also suggest choosing to communicate a summary of ‘provisional views’ from the public to the Commission as an alternative to a summary of ‘public views’, which creates uncertainty around what ‘provisional views’ are and what they mean for the consultation process.

The Council’s suggestions are an attempt to delay the consultations and limit the Commission’s opportunities to include consultation results in its assessment. They seem to view public participation as a burdensome administrative obligation that would result in decisions being delayed.

Increasing transparency, democracy and inclusivity

EU countries however, may not realise the opportunities that wider public participation can provide. Involving all climate and energy transition actors could be a factor that helps trigger the appropriate investment indispensable to fully decarbonise the EU economy by 2050.

Interested parties can also make key contributions to national planning processes. Many cities, regions and local communities have already implemented ambitious energy and climate policies through their participatory and integrated Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans (SECAPs).

Being able to share their experience may prove very helpful for central governments. These local and regional authorities are also the closest to citizens, so are better placed to represent their’ views and opinions. Widespread public participation is also an excellent way to make the system more transparent, democratic and inclusive.

The European Commission, European Parliament and Council will now enter intro trilogues to come to an agreement on the Governance Regulation. These policy makers must work to strengthen the Governance Regulation provisions on public participation.

The Commission and the Council must support the European Parliament to improve the provisions of the Governance Regulation on public participation. They must agree to introduce provisions to the national Multilevel Climate and Energy Dialogue Platforms so that the public finally has a voice on how their countries transition to cleaner, more efficient energy.

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