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By Dave Keating, Forbes

The European Commission risked crossing red lines by proposing more EU control over national energy policy and taxation.

EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action Miguel Arias Cañete wants to end a requirement for unanimous voting on energy issues in the European Council (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Though power has steadily flowed from national capitals to Brussels over the past two decades in the European Union, there have been key areas which the EU can’t touch according to its treaties. These include diplomacy, defence, education, healthcare, energy and taxation.

Today, the European Commission risked crossing these red lines by proposing more EU control over the latter two areas.

As part of an annual review of the bloc’s ‘Energy Union’ – plans to unite the countries disjointed energy systems – the Commission set out plans to end the requirement for a unanimous vote by all 28 countries in the EU to make changes to energy taxation rules. Under the proposal, such votes would move to qualified majority voting, which gives each country voting power based on its population. This is the system used for most EU lawmaking outside of the red line areas.

Speaking at a press conference, EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete called the requirement for unanimity “absolutely outdated”.

“In the last years it’s become very urgent to align energy union objectives to the taxation framework,” he said. “For example, the polluter pays principle doesn’t exist in the world of energy taxation. We are giving €5 billion of subsidies a year to fossil fuels. And there’s no system of taxation that incentivises renewables”.

The Commission has tried several times to change the EU’s Energy Taxation Directive, but each time it has been vetoed by fossil-fuel-reliant countries such as Poland, even though it could pass under qualified majority rules.

“We can’t have the most ambitious framework to develop an energy union, and at the same time have a palaeolithic energy taxation system,” he fumed. “This is unbelievable!”

However Cañete noted that since the current term of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is ending later this year, it will be for the next president to decide whether to pull the trigger on this plan. He said the change could be made without altering the EU’s treaties, by using new “passarelle” clauses introduced by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.

Candidates running in May’s European election to replace Juncker as Commission President reacted positively to the idea.

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