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In the Council itself, Commissioner Piebalgs presented the Energy Efficiency action plan as a key element in the battle against climate change, with the aim of achieving 20 per cent. savings in energy use by 2020. Priority areas include product standards, labelling and education, buildings and transport, added generation efficiency and directing more structural funds towards energy efficiency. He added that transport had huge potential—the 120g/km CO2 target for vehicle emissions, while not mentioned in the conclusions, remained valid. What was needed
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now was ambitious and effective action. The Council adopted conclusions on the action plan (15210/06) after one member state registered its preference for binding targets.

In the policy debate that followed, all member states supported the action plan, with significant support for the more focused priorities that offered the most added value in the Conclusions. Many member states emphasised the importance of education and the need to give member states maximum flexibility to address their national situation, to engage industry, financial institutions and the public sector at all levels and to mobilize Community funding opportunities. New member states particularly focused on access to funding. Two major member states supported market mechanisms, one arguing for legislation on transport efficiency and for an EU-wide white certificates system.

On renewables, while many reinforced that energy mix was for member states to decide, most supported a general 20 per cent. target of renewables by 2020. Only two member states wanted this to be binding; several wanted this to be at EU level only, with differentiated targets for member states. Most wanted flexibility for member states to use the most competitive technologies. Use of market mechanisms, particularly the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the need for a sustainable and predictable framework were also mentioned.

On the international dimension, there was considerable support for an International Framework Agreement on energy efficiency (IFAEE). All supported more EU leadership and effort internationally; international organisations or bilateral dialogues, particularly with the US and China; and research and technology transfer, especially with emerging and developing countries. In response, the Commission agreed with the points made on energy efficiency, emphasising the need for leadership both within the EU by the public sector and by the EU internationally. The Commission would call a meeting to discuss an IFAEE in January. On renewables, they would look at some of the new ideas but continued to believe that a well-justified mandatory target was appropriate.

The Presidency and Commission summarised progress on a range of international dossiers including Russia where, despite lack of agreement on the post-Partnership and Co-operation Agreement mandate, the Presidency would rearrange the energy Permanent Partnership Council for before the end of next month. The Commission said it would continue with a robust approach to the range of energy discussions with Russia, based on the principles of the Energy Charter Treaty.

The Commission also noted that the creation of the proposed energy security correspondents network should be agreed by Council conclusions before the end of the year. Commissioner Piebalgs emphasised it would be a light structure, involving no duplication and would operate on an entirely voluntary basis. Member states were invited to nominate two members.

Responding to a request from one member state, the Commission confirmed they would consult on the new environmental state aid guidelines early in 2007.

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Work and Pensions

Social Fund Commissioner

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I am pleased to announce that from 1 December 2006 Sir Richard Tilt will serve a further three-year period as social fund commissioner for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Sir Richard, who has already served two terms as commissioner, was successful after an open recruitment exercise.

The Rent Service

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. John Hutton): I am today announcing my intention to transfer my responsibilities in relation to the appointment, remuneration and administration of rent officers to the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Accordingly the work of The Rent Service, which is currently an executive agency of the Department for Work and Pensions, will become the responsibility of the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and will be integrated into the Valuation Office Agency, an executive agency of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The transfer will be effective from 1 April 2009.

Following the expected rollout of the local housing allowance, the cornerstone of the housing benefit reform programme in 2008 the number of staff required to perform the rent officers’ residual functions both to support housing benefit and make valuations on fair rent cases will not be enough to warrant an independent agency of the DWP.

It would be more efficient for TRS to integrate its work with another more appropriate organisation to support the Government’s wider efficiency agenda of collaboration and shared services in order to provide better value for money to taxpayers.

We have concluded that the TRS should be transferred to the VOA, due to the strong similarities between the two organisations.

This change of responsibilities will be effected by way of secondary legislation in due course. Any related changes to the proposed information sharing gateway between rent officers and the Secretary of State in clause 35 of the Welfare Reform Bill will be brought forward at the first appropriate opportunity.

Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
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will be held on 1 December in Brussels. My hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations and Minister for London will represent the UK. Health and consumer affairs issues are being taken on 30 November.

The first item is the communication from the Commission: Green Paper on adapting labour law to ensure flexibility and security for all. This will be a presentation from the Commission and exchange of views. The document was published on 22 November.

The Council hopes to adopt the Council conclusions on decent work that essentially promote the International Labour Organisation response to the global jobs crisis.

The Council will look at two aspects of responding to the challenges of globalisation and demographic change:

There will be Council conclusions on the review of the implementation by the member states and the EU institutions of the Beijing platform for action and men and gender equality. Following the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the Council asked member states to undertake an annual review of the implementation of the resulting platform for action.

Council hopes to reach political agreement on the amended proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing for the period 2007-13 the specific programme “Fight against violence (Daphne)” as part of the general programme “Fundamental Rights and Justice”.

There will be a progress report from the presidency on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. This is intended to make it easier for workers with occupational pensions to move around the EU. Member states will be invited to take part in the policy debate to make their positions clear.

The Council will aim to reach agreement on a partial general approach on both the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council implementing Regulation (EC) No 883/04 on the co-ordination of social security schemes and the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 on the co-ordination of social security systems, and determining the content of Annex XI.

Under “Any Other Business” the Chair of the Employment Committee will give a report on the examination of national reform programme. The Chair of the Social Protection Committee will give a progress report on work on social services of general interest.

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