Malta fully agrees with the renewable energy targets set for it by the European Commission and will be launching a multi-million euro initiative for the development of an offshore wind farm soon.

Speaking at the end of a two-day EU summit in Brussels yesterday, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said the government had contacted foreign companies on the possibility of developing an offshore wind farm and will soon set out to better explain its electoral pledges regarding alternative energy.

"We promised that the environment is going to take centre stage in our agenda over the next five years and we are adamant to deliver even in the clean energy sector. We are evaluating the way forward for producing more energy from alternative resources and we should soon be in a position to announce an initiative in the wind energy sector."

A few weeks ago, the European Commission proposed a set of energy targets to be met by Malta by 2020, intended to spur the island to produce more energy from renewables and reduce its dependency on oil. Malta will have to produce 10 per cent of all its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

This target falls within the EU's ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gases by 20 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020 and produce 20 per cent of its members' energy needs from renewables. The EU leaders at the summit have committed themselves to finalising negotiations on the plan by the end of this year.

Together with Cyprus, Malta is the most conventional-fuel dependent country in the EU. In 2006, Malta produced only 0.36 per cent of all its energy needs from renewables, the lowest level in the EU.

During the electoral campaign, Dr Gonzi pledged that, if elected, the government would invest in a wind farm 32 kilometres out at sea capable of producing between 75 and 100 MW of clean energy. This will amount to 20 per cent of Malta's energy needs.

Asked whether this initiative would be a government-sponsored project or a private initiative, Dr Gonzi said that at this stage the government was leaving all options open. "We are still studying the details of this initiative. It can be a private-public partnership or a private initiative on its own. However, we still have to decide the fine details."

EU leaders also discussed the second phase of the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs, an EU-wide set of benchmarks aimed at putting the EU economy on the global cutting edge.

State aid is one of the areas on which the Commission is pressing Malta. Due to aid given to Malta Shipyards, the island is still considered to have a heavy load of subsidies when compared to the EU average.

In 2002, Malta and the EU agreed on a seven-year restructuring programme aimed at making the shipyards viable. However, despite more than €800 million of subsidies, the shipyards are still in the red. At the end of the year, the subsidies will become illegal.

Asked by The Times what will happen to the shipyards if the company is still losing money by that time, as appears likely, Dr Gonzi said the government will be doing all it can to make sure the company survives. However, he warned that this must entail the full collaboration of all the workers and their union.

"Our intention is to make the restructuring programme work but this requires a massive effort from everyone, including the GWU. We intend to launch discussions with the union to take stock of the situation and work on a possible solution to the problems that are hampering the shipyards from progressing."

In a recent interview to The Times, Minister Austin Gatt, who is responsible for Malta Shipyards, identified low productivity as the main problem afflicting the company.

Dr Gonzi's delegation at the two-day summit included Foreign Minister Tonio Borg and Finance Minister Tonio Fenech.

Explaining the role of the new Parliamentary Secretary for Information and Public Dialogue Chris Said, Dr Gonzi said he will act as an interface between his office and civil society at large.

In this context, Dr Gonzi announced the intention of reviving the Malta-EU Steering Action Committee (Meusac), a tripartite forum which had a key role in pre-accession negotiations.

The Forum Malta fl-Ewropa, set up to replace Meusac and the Malta-EU Information Centre, will be re-integrated within the role of Meusac.

Dr Gonzi returned to Malta last night.

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