Open Europe Blog

Labour leader Ed Miliband addressed his party conference in Manchester this afternoon. While the focus was on ‘togetherness’, the NHS and his various encounters with members of the public with useful bits for his speech, there were a couple of mentions of the EU and related issues. On the topic he said:

“Let me say it plainly: Britain’s future lies inside not outside the European Union. And the way we reform the EU is by building alliances, not burning them. And it’s why all those who want to leave, including in the Conservative Party, are now a huge threat to the prosperity of our country.”

Miliband went on to add that he saw the need for EU reform in areas such as “the economy, migration and other big issues”. He also cited the UK’s failed opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission Presidency as evidence that UK Prime Minister David Cameron cannot achieve reform in Europe, since all countries simply believe he is pandering to his party.

Ultimately the EU section was a side note to the main messages of his speech. Once again there was no detail about exactly which reforms Labour would pursue with regards to the EU, no mention of whether a referendum would be held or not and only vague talk of alliance building with no clear message of how this would be achieved other than by not being the Conservative Party. He also glossed over the fact that the Labour Party ostensibly supported the anti-Juncker push by the UK and that the negotiations over Juncker seem to have resulted in the UK securing a prime post in the new Commission – one many thought they would never get.

Interestingly, there was a bit more detail at one of Open Europe’s fringe events with Shadow Europe Minister Gareth Thomas stating that he (and presumably his party) support a red card for national parliaments as well as a specialised European affairs committee to better scrutinise all EU legislation. Certainly commendable if they prove to be concrete Labour policy.

One final interesting point on substance from Miliband regarding energy:

“[We are] making a clear commitment to take the carbon out of our electricity by 2030.”

This is a pretty bold statement (although he did hint at something similar last year), which essentially says that all of the UK’s electricity consumption will be met by renewable sources in 2030. To put that into context current renewable share of electricity generation is around 16%, and is due to rise by to 30% by 2020 – that is if the UK meets its EU set targets (quite a big if at this point).

To achieve the current 2020 target, according to government impact assessment, the Renewables Directive costs £4.2bn per year over the course of a decade. Miliband’s target would essentially involve tripling the increase of renewables over the same timeframe up to 2030 – exactly how much would such a policy cost per year!? (We’d hazard a guess at…a lot). As the graph above from the National Grid shows, most forecasts expect the UK to still have a sizeable chunk of electricity generation from gas and coal, mostly due to the cost and complexity of overhauling the entire grid and the intermittent nature of renewables (note – we have an upcoming paper on these issues and more soon so stay tuned).

All of this also takes place in a context where carbon prices (via the EU ETS) and targets are set and negotiated at the EU level. Will Miliband unilaterally commit to such an approach when it seems likely few, if any, other EU members would sign up to it? We’ve highlighted before the potential conflict between Labour’s energy policy and the EU. Again, more detail needed but at least here there are some interesting questions to chew over.

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