Greece is at the helm of the EU Presidency for the next six months, with a large debt and a heavy agenda both inside and outside of the country ranging from immigration issues to environmental concerns. But a closer look at the European Commission's proposals for climate and energy policies up to 2030 reveals that Greece and the EU will be up against a lot of criticism on the environmental front. Environmental NGOs accuse the EU of clashing with what is technically right and what is politically acceptable. The question now is: Will the European Commission fully follow expert modeling, or will it settle for less, for the sake of politics?

On 22 January, a blockbuster EU climate and energy package was unveiled, comprising new legislative proposals on subjects from shale gas and tar sands to structural carbon market reform and industrial competitiveness. Brussels is pushing for a binding 40% reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels and has set a target for renewable energy at 27%. These 27%, however, will only be binding at EU level. No mandatory goals have been set for individual member states, a move that has been widely criticised.

Green MEP's and NGOs gathered on Wednesday in front of the European Commission in Brussels to protest against the EU's new climate and energy targets for 2030, chanting slogans such as “Frack off Barroso” and “Climate SOS”.Green groups have already accused the Commission of drafting plans under the influence of the fossil fuels industry and countries like the UK, Poland and Spain.

In an interview to Euractiv online magazine, Oxfam Policy Advisor Lies Craeynest said: “[We want] the current target for emissions targets to be increased to 55%. The current proposal is for around 40%, which scientists say will give less than half a chance of meeting the global goal of keeping below 2 degrees”.

“What we are seeing is a strong lobbying from energy companies, like EON, ENEL, this type of companies and they are protecting their fossil fuel interests. But what we need in the EU is a transformation to clean energy sources.”, Greenpeace EU Climate Policy Director Joris Den Blanken told Euractiv.

But the European Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, denied that this was a weak proposal, saying that a 'more ambitious plan' would have been 'dead politically'.

While a reduction of 40% is enough for the European Commission, the European Climate Foundation too favours a reduction target of at least 50%. This is expected to be discussed and in theory endorsed by the heads of states and government at the European Council on the 20th and 21st of March.

Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy at the WWF European Policy Office, says European Commission proposals for 2030 appear to reduce ambitions for 2050 compared to previous publications. He argues that the European Commission’s work should be based on expert analysis and resist Europe’s least ambitious voices, or the EU will face 10 years of climate inaction, energy sector stagnation, and lost environmental and economic opportunities.

“40% for 2030 is what Europe must do, but also what is cost-efficient for Europe to do. Be honest, that is my message to the NGOs. 40% is not a small thing, it's a big thing. It will require a lot from Europe. If all other big economies followed our example, then the world would be in a much better place. So if I were an NGO, then I would work a bit on other economies.”, Hedegaard said.

“It is interesting to see at which point the costs outweigh the benefits”, Anderson argues and adds that any options that deliver over 45% emissions reductions were discarded without clear reasoning and despite many stakeholders calling for higher levels of ambition. “The European Commission actually succeeded in delivering more GDP growth than the scenario with lower targets, and almost the same GDP growth as a greenhouse gas target only scenario.” In fact, he says that none of the impact assessment scenarios model 95% emissions reductions by 2050.

The Commission also leaves it up to EU member countries whether or not to exploit shale gas reserves. It is also expected to set new targets for recycling and avoiding landfill. Furthermore, it suggests waste prevention goals action on specific waste such as biowaste and marine litter, a certification scheme for waste exports and new EU rules on extended producer responsibility.

Separately, Greece hopes to broker a deal between member states and MEPs on a proposal to toughen up waste shipment rules from last July. The deal will have to be up for inspections to combat illegal exports. Greece also wants member states and MEPs to agree on an alternative fuel strategy that seeks to boost the use of electricity, gas and hydrogen in European transport. Talks have started, but sealing the deal will not be easy as transport ministers often reject EU imposed targets for an alternative charging infrastructure. Other priorities for Greece include EU proposals to reduce the use of plastic bags, improve air quality and monitor CO2 emissions from ships. The maritime sector is a priority for Greece which will organise a special blue growth conference on the 14th and 15th of May.

Jason Anderson is still not happy: “The picture painted by the full set of policy proposals is dispiriting - an energy efficiency target has been deferred; cancelling the massive oversupply of carbon in the Emissions Trading Scheme is also deferred; closing the gaps in EU shale gas legislation is deferred. I’m sure the fossil fuel lobbyists will sleep well tonight.”, he says.