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Italy, not biofuels hold back EU energy deal

Biofuel deadlock put to rest, but other issues prevent the EU from sealing the green energy deal.

When it comes to European Union efforts toward a climate action plan, the devil, it turns out, is in the details.

All of the member states of the EU are willing to commit their countries to draw 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources, reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent, and become 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. That overall goal was agreed upon in March 2007.

In January 2008, the agreement was refined with more details including action plans in different categories for countries to follow. One of these demanded that 10 percent of all road transport fuel come from renewable resources by 2020. According to that January proposal, the majority of renewables would be allowed to be from biofuels.

Concerns were raised over the global impact of biofuels, and the entire package became deadlocked over the issue.

You can read the drama of this on the blog of Andris Piebalgs, the EU energy commissioner who's also repeatedly addressed the fierce European debate over biofuels.

As anyone who's read anything about biofuels in the last few years knows, it's a controversial topic not just in Europe but everywhere.

Some see biofuels as a permanent addition to the go-to list of energy sources and deny they're responsible for any food shortages. Others see it as a reasonable midterm solution until better technology can be implemented. Many countries with a heavy agricultural base covet the lucrative market and money it can bring their people.

Others raise concerns that biofuels are responsible for soaring food prices and shortages, since food producers are forced to compete against energy companies for grain supplies. Arguably, the growing world demand for those crops are also responsible for indirect land-use change--the destruction of wetlands and rain forests to make room for more farmland.

Taking these views into consideration, EU members finally settled on a tentative deal over the biofuels issue on Thursday.

A third of the 10 percent of road transport fuel required to come from renewables must be from electric cars and trains.

But Italy still blocked the deal from passing. (The European Parliament and all 27 EU nations have to approve the deal in order for it to become a law.)

Italy wants a clause included in the final agreement that would allow countries to review the policy again in 2014.

Both environmentalists and EU member countries against the clause argued it would hold up investment in alternative energies. With an escape clause, they say, alternative energy investors will take a wait-and-see approach until 2014 in case parts of the EU energy plan are dumped.

French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the current president of the EU, announced that the proposal will be revisited on December 11 and 12 at the European Council meeting in Brussels.