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European Energy Policy: A never ending story?

Presentation of Florian Baumann at the Pałac Pugetów (Krakow)

02.05.2008 · C·A·P

Since the beginning of European integration energy always has been a factor not to be ignored, although it tended to be sidelined. But as Javier Solana once said: "The days of easy energy are over" and thus energy politics is one of the top priorities on the European agenda. On account of this the Institute for Strategic Studies organized the conference "Energetic Security – a pillar of secure Europe" to discuss the potential of Polish-German cooperation and the challenges of European Energy Policy. A process that once started as part of the internal market is today evolving as a holistic concept along the guidelines of energy security, sustainability and competitiveness. Nowadays these goals are seen as complementary whereas the inevitable tensions between secure supply, low prices and eco-friendly sources of energy seem to be neglected. So first of all a common energy policy has to find a reasonable balance between these three objectives to keep the trade-off as low as possible.

A second challenge is the fact that there is no legal base for joint action in the field of energy. During the 1990ties the Commission was rather innovative in implementing single market rules and her competences on trans-European networks on electricity grids and gas transmission infrastructures. A common market for electricity and gas for end-users was formally established last year. In addition to these internal measures the Commission initiated two pan-European regimes for energy cooperation: The Energy Charter basically between the European Community and the former Soviet republics and some years later the Energy Community together with neighboring states in South Eastern Europe in order to expand liberalization and stability into these regions. Today the Brussels institutions are even more ambitious and therefore the usual detours over single market, environmental or network directives do not suffice any longer. The Lisbon Treaty, that is to be ratified right now, grants competences for energy security, efficiency and renewables. Also the new chapter on Energy will advance the EU's ability to act, but the provisions are still vague and it will be up to the next Commission to fill these legal fragments with life.

Heterogeneity of national energy policies has to be seen as third challenge for this new area of common policy. A brief look at the different composition of energy mixes holds as a first instance thereof. The growing import dependency of EU member states is a second one, where the direct link between energy and foreign policy or geo-politics is most obvious. Besides all rhetoric on a common energy strategy and more coherence between member states, national governments sometimes act as if the European Union would not exist. The North European Gas pipeline or the announced South Stream pipeline – which rivals the European Nabucco project – do not only undermine a common energy approach, more than that they are an offence against non-participating member states. A European energy policy that can be taken serious needs a much higher degree of coordination and cooperation. That does not mean that the Commission should decide over the composition of national energy mixes. But due to the given interdependence of the member states' supply security, at least a common approach towards external suppliers, joint crises mechanisms and a shared understanding of solidarity are necessary.

The presentation of Florian Baumann concluded that "towards a low carbon future" bringing together the three strategic energy objectives, could be a new leitmotif for European integration. What the EU needs most urgently is a comprehensive Energy Strategy, which includes all objectives of energy and climate policy – comparable to the European Security Strategy. External energy policy as one of the aspects where coherence and coordination are still weak has to be more present. Both, solidarity between the member states and diversification have to be further evolved, as they are the key for improving Europe's energy security. From a more technological perspective a higher spending in research and development is essential to develop innovative energy technologies. And finally the citizens must be involved. Climate change and rising competition for resources are two of the shaping powers of our times. Thus European and national elites have to be straightforward and let people know why these problems have to be tackled and at which costs. Over and above consumer behavior is an outstanding asset for energy efficiency and savings if people are willing to contribute.

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