EU moving towards a European Energy Community
The European energy community is Jacques Delors’ visionary response to challenges that, if not addressed, have the potential of putting the European countries and the EU at risk. And so far, the main energy challenges have not been adequately addressed.
Anna-Maria Darmanin is Vice-President of the European Economic and Social Committee
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The European Economic and Social Committee, as the EU institution representing civil society at EU level, has always contributed to EU energy legislation in the most consensual manner by putting the different viewpoints of civil society in a pragmatic perspective. But, in recent years, we also had to deplore the slow progress on certain energy policy issues deserving much more quick and radical realisations. Today, the time has come to put forward what I would qualify as daring proposals –others may say provocative - as, with Notre Europe and also with a very large group of civil society representatives, we feel that decisive action on the political governance of energy policy cannot wait any longer.
This is not only a matter of conviction. It is matter of necessity. Energy is no longer a purely industrial issue for member states to solve independently. Energy policy is no longer about deciding centrally how many power plants need to be built. Energy is now a central policy that has many social, economic, financial, environmental and cultural ramifications that no single member state or operator can address separately or on its own. The new directions that define energy policy are well-known: the security of supply, the transition towards a low-carbon society by 2050, the provision of affordable energy to end-users, without which European competitiveness and social model would be severely jeopardised.
Europe may have grasped the urgent need to act, or so it seems. But it has so far failed to make decisions and take action. It is true that these issues are being discussed – perhaps not to the extent they deserve, though. Concrete solutions are still in limbo. Our fellow citizens seem to have understood the urgency ahead of us. In a recent Eurobarometer, they asked the EU for concrete actions: cooperate to protect us better, act jointly because it is the first, indispensable step to facing up the challenges.
If the EU, its member states and all involved in energy policy, do not do it, then we would terribly fail our fellow citizens and eventually ourselves. This challenge is colossal but it is our responsibility to take it up. The credibility of policy-making at national and European level is at stake. A lot has been done so far by the European Commission to complete the internal market for energy, one of the prerequisites to success. And a clear direction has been given by Jacques Delors. He has come with a comprehensive plan to establish in the EU the right conditions for joint governance of energy issues, which is the only way forward.
The European energy community is not at all abstract. On the contrary. I will not pre-empt the discussion but there are a few considerations that should be made right from the outset to think over.
• Does it make sense that, within the EU, national borders, inadequate legislation and a lack of grid interconnections drastically limit the free production, exchange and provision of energy when and where it is needed?
• Does it make sense that third countries can play Members States and the EU against each other and offer them different, less favourable terms and conditions?
• Does it make sense that the development of renewable energy sources is made more costly by a lack of coordination between Member States?
• Does it make sense that citizens’ views are not appropriately taken into account in the key decisions influencing energy use and consumers’ behaviour?
This is not my understanding of European solidarity and an efficient political system. This is why the European Economic and Social Committee, together with Notre Europe, will leave no stone unturned in the effort to move towards a better governance of energy issues at EU level and ultimately establish a European energy community.
Political needs and discourse now have to match reality. A lot can be done now. Notre Europe has made a number of sensible proposals that the EESC supports. It is now up to flesh out this proposal and make it a clear objective for the EU to meet in the years to come. Joint gas purchasing groups at EU level or increased cooperation on the energy mix between Member States at regional level feature high amongst the policy measures that would contribute to both securing energy supply within the EU and limiting excessive price hikes and differences between Member States.
The cost of a lack of joint action is simply too high for the EU, industry, and consumers to accept. I am not naive though, and I hear the sceptical voices around. They think that there is enough cooperation, that the EU should not intervene in every single area of national sovereignty and that the energy mix should definitely remain a national responsibility. I think that the sceptics should explain to the consumers and industry that they will be deprived of more sustainable and efficient policy options because decision-makers continue to live as if the EU construction would not exist.
In this regard let me refer to the European Monetary Union and the turmoil it is currently going through. Many will share my view that the euro is not the problem. For almost ten years the financial markets had been more than happy with the euro. The common currency had indeed grown stronger compared to the American dollar. So where is the problem? Invisible during times of economic expansion, the problem is that of the absence of governance mechanisms. We are all suffering from the dramatic consequences of the absence of economic integration within the EU. Eurozone countries and the EU at large have been fighting for several years with the markets and this allows speculators to make use of this weakness to put EU governments under pressure for their own profit. My conviction is that due to the extreme interdependence between the EU Member States in energy, the same cause could produce the same effect. At this stage of interwoven grids, markets and objectives, there is no alternative to deeper integration and common governance.
Be assured of the EESC’s commitment to the European energy community. I am convinced that civil society at large will acknowledge that, in spite of the many obstacles, this is the best option for all. The EESC will not fail in making the point to the EU institutions and civil society. It will work on making citizens’ expectations a reality and will contribute to a project that, in times of doubt and mistrust of politics, can remobilise Europeans around a forward-looking project.
* Anna-Maria Darmanin is Vice-President of the European Economic and Social Committee. The article is an edited version of Ms Darmanin’ s speech during the conference ‘The EU moving towards a European Energy Community’, 31 January 2012 in the Jacque Delors Building in Brussels.