Britain and Germany are expected to go head to head over a debate on how to meet renewable energy targets for the next 10 years.
The 28 member states agreed climate and energy goals last October, but to make it easier to get a deal, the decision went only as far as a framework.
In outline, the 2030 agreement includes cutting greenhouse gases by at least 40 % versus 1990 and raising the share of renewable energy to at least 27 % from 20 % by 2020.
The emissions target will be mandatory in the wider framework of U.N. climate goals to be reviewed in Paris at the end of the year.
So far, the 2030 renewable goal is binding only at EU-wide level and the challenge is to ensure it is met as the bloc as a whole cannot be fined for infringement.
Germany, which is pushing through its Energiewende, or shift from nuclear to green energy, wants binding laws.
It has produced a position statement circulated over the summer weeks in Brussels referred to by diplomats as “the ‘what if?’ paper”.
“In the end, there has to be a consequence if the contributions do not add up to at least 27 %. There is no point in pretending there won’t be any,” the German paper, seen by Reuters, says. “The heads of states agreed on an EU binding target – not on an EU hoping target.”
Portugal also takes a firm line in another paper designed to influence diplomats. It says “a strong governance system” with “clear compliance mechanisms” is needed to attract investors.
“Investors’ confidence for clean energy will develop only on the back of a strong andreliable governance system,” Imke Luebbeke, policy officer at campaign group WWF, said.
In the opposite camp, Britain, which is investing in new nuclear power and promoting shale gas exploration, aligned with the Czech Republic in a joint paper urging a “light-touch and non-legislative” approach.
“It is each member state’s right to determine their own most appropriate low-carbon energy mix. Renewable energy is one of a number of technologies that we can use to decarbonise our economy,” a spokeswoman for Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change said.
Luxembourg, holder of the EU presidency until the end of the year, says governance, as the formal implementation of the outline policy is known, is a priority.
After a preliminary meeting in July, closed-door technical talks begin in earnest in mid-September.
One EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said progress will be difficult, but there are “points of agreement”. “There has to be some system of national plans and cross-border sharing,” the official said.