Others have studied the EU’s legal basis for energy policy much better than I have. Chiefly among them prof Leonie Reins. e.g. for RECIEL here and in her Phd here. The impact of this discussion is high: since the introduction of an energy Title in the EU Treaties (following Lisbon) whether so designed or not, the prospect of that Title’s requirement on unanimity for measures which ‘have a significant effect on a Member State’s choice between different energy sources’ looms heavily over the EU’s environment policy. The EU’s emissions trading system – ETS is the prime candidate for falling victim to an extensive interpretation of Article 192(2)c TFEU, which harbours the unanimity requirement within the Treaty’s environment Title. [The energy Title, Article 194, has similar challenges].
In C-5/16 Poland v EP and Council Mengozzi AG Opined last week. At issue is Poland’s opposition to a MSR – a market stability reserve for the Union greenhouse gas emission trading scheme, essentially a long-term parking for surplus allowances to enable the ETS to safeguard collapse of prices in the event of excess supply. The resulting increase in the price of allowances was inter alia intended to encourage fuel switching and to discourage investments in coal-fired power stations (hence of course Poland’s interest).
Relevant to future reference is especially the AG’s view at 25, which I include in full: ‘as a derogation, Article 192(2)(c) TFEU is to be interpreted strictly, especially since an efficient modern environment policy cannot ignore energy questions. I share the fears expressed by the defendants and the interveners that the applicant’s proposed interpretation of Article 192(2)(c) TFEU and the conclusions which it draws from that interpretation for the examination of the legal basis of the contested decision would effectively block any legislative initiative by recognising a right of veto for Member States, as the Union would adopt measures inviting them only to rationalise their CO2-consuming activities. Furthermore, such an interpretation would doom the ETS to failure as it would prevent the EU legislature from correcting its structural deficiencies. In addition, although I would point out that the goal of introducing the MSR is not to form the price of allowances but simply to ensure the efficiency of the ETS, in any event, an operator’s choice of a certain energy source or production technology cannot depend on that price alone, which does not in itself define the production costs, which are determined by a variety of factors. Even with the introduction of the MSR, the choice of technology still remains in the hands of operators and is not dictated by the European Union.’
I am not sure to what degree the Court’s judgment will enable us to draw criteria with wider impact than just the current case – but it would certainly be helpful. Mengozzi AG firstly emphasises strict interpretation of the ‘energy mix’ exception. Further, in the paras preceeding the aforecited one, links amendments to existing laws largely to the latter’s legal basis. Supports the Institutions and Spain, France and Sweden (intervening; the position of Germany, also intervening, was not made clear) in their warning against veto power in the energy /climate change context; and finally further dilutes the exception by looking at policies as they work in practice, not just in theory. On this point, the AG looks at the ETS specifically however his view has broader appeal: it would essentially mean that when Member States’ and individuals’ /undertakings’ behaviour is determined by regulatory intervention, some of which clearly based on a legal basis other than Article 192(2)c TFEU, the latter is not determinant in deciding proper legal basis.
This is an important case for the future of EU environment and energy policy.