The Twilight Zone – formulating an Energy Policy for Europe

, by Tina Fistravec

The Twilight Zone – formulating an Energy Policy for Europe

Energy has been high on the agenda since the Hampton Court EU energy summit, especially because of the EU’s growing energy dependency. The Commission’s recently published Strategic Energy Review (SER) shows that an energy policy for Europe is rapidly taking shape, but where will it lead to?

Energy is one of the foundational pillars of economies, and even a neophyte’s eye can predict the wave of panic which would follow the closing of the Russian pipelines, and the plunging into darkness of most of Europe. Hearing experts joke that a mild winter is saving us from disaster, I wonder why there is not more political will to push forwards concerning this problem.

The Russian Factor

Energy dependency on Russia is a separate issue, but it strongly influences the current developments in EU energy policy. Everyone is afraid of Russia, but only few can understand the crucial balance of interdependence between Europe and Russia, and even fewer can achieve this balance in managing their relations with the latter. The Lahti Summit, which was brimming with hopes for a united European approach towards the Russian bear, has been deformed by Putin’s mockery, thereby proving, once more, how utterly un-united Europe is. The only solution, and not just concerning energy, but also concerning Russia’s respect for democracy and the rule of law, is a strong European foreign policy. Unfortunately, only small steps have been taken towards a more coherent external energy policy, and many efforts are still being blocked.

New strategies and challenges

SER outlines scenarios of possible future developments, by strategically linking climate change to energy and by calling for clean technologies, thereby pushing Europe away from dangerously growing dependence on imported energy sources. The three pillars are: a society emitting low amounts of carbon, security of supply, and a coherent external policy. Is there enough political will for a European energy policy? Many question the proposed measures and I cannot see signs of honest political will in taking this policy to the next level. The Spring European Council will adopt a list of priorities, constructed upon the lowest common denominator. Overly ambitious goals will also be water down the EU’s credibility - the loss of which will occur if the policy does not deliver any tangible results.

Two issues are highly problematic, and they go back to the system’s structure itself: the completion of an internal energy market, as well as a coherent external energy policy.

Divergent views and interests

The proposal to liberalize the internal energy market counters strong opposition from many states. The motive is easily recognized – by controlling the energy market, which is vital for the functioning of any community, the state might have an illusion of control over the energy sphere. The same illusion appears in foreign relations. Make no mistake, it is only an illusion.

The Commission, on the other hand, believes that true competition will prevent monopolies, and a more coherent EU’s external energy policy will prevent these “energy giants” to blackmail individual states. However, these are very valid points, which touch upon the essence of sovereignty and power division.

Unfortunately, post-Kyoto environmental issues seem to be set aside at the moment due to the heavy wielding of divergent interests. Nevertheless, SER comes at a crucial moment; in order to ensure progress in the fight against climate change, it is vitally important to initiate Community mechanisms that will secure clean and environmentally friendly technologies.

However, the Commission’s effort to set 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as a binding target might prove to be a tough nut to crack (the same for 20% of renewables and 10% of biofuels). The proposed targets are seen as overly ambitious and non-achievable. Of course, the states should know their polluters best. It is a real danger that nuclear power will once again become the preferred solution, for there will be no other way to reach these goals in such a short amount of time.

Conclusion

The question is not if the proposed goals are attainable in due time (add a year or two), but whether the states will finally agree upon a common energy policy. Due to very different energy mixes of individual states and energy giants looming over governments, a pessimist would not expect much.

Although liberalization can affect an average consumer negatively thorough price increases, speaking with one voice and securing a sustainable future can work for all – if people are appropriately informed and educated. Here is where economic progress truly goes hand in hand with political integration, and where the success of one is highly dependent on the other. But do European leaders see this? Their next elections might blur their vision, which has happened many times. The EU needs a common energy policy, and it needs it quickly.

Image:

- Sunset in countryside, Czech Republic; source: Flickr

This article was originally published in the spring edition of The New Federalist, paper version of the magazine of the Young European Federalists (JEF-Europe).

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