It is high time that we made energy a top priority both on national and EU levels. The Austrian Presidency has committed to putting energy at the top of the agenda. With the EU summit looming later this month, the Commission have now published their vision for a European Energy policy in their Green Paper.
By Gay Mitchell
Energy is not just a single issue – there are in fact three major components to consider when looking at the future of energy in the EU: n Fuel Security – The EU-25 import dependency for energy is 38 percent (based on 2002 figures) and is projected to rise to 71 percent by 2030. The recent energy row between Russia and Ukraine shows the vulnerability of many EU member states dependent on one supplier. Today’s Green Paper highlights that efforts taken at national level to maintain a sustainable energy policy are inadequate, and this makes for a disjointed approach to the problem in the EU. Ireland for example, was earlier in the year criticised by the EU for having no reserves of liquified natural gas to meet a potential temporary supply crisis – and is only one of three EU Member States not to have such reserves. Some of the measures the Commission proposes include a European Energy Supply Observatory to identify gaps in supply and infrastructure, and a revision of existing legislation dealing with oil and gas stocks to ensure security of supply for Member States in the event of a major supply disruption. n Energy Market Competition – the Energy Commissioner, Andreas Piebalgs, has proposed the creation of a new EU energy regulator in today’s Green Paper. We need to complete the liberalisation of the energy markets as a matter of urgency. The protectionist tendency of some Member States against cross-border takeovers could be guarded against by such a regulator, if given adequate authority, together with Commissioner for Competition, Neelie Kroes. Over the next weeks and months the Commission will also launch individual antitrust investigations, and will take a closer look at the price-setting mechanisms on electricity wholesale markets, including power exchanges. Competition ensures efficient investment and maintains lower prices, and competitive prices underpin the security of supply. n Energy Sustainability – the Commission now estimates that one trillion Euro will be needed over the next 20 years to meet rising energy demands and replace ageing infrastructures across the EU. An emphasis must be placed on developing efficient and clean sources of energy, which could both curb climate change, and reduce dependency on energy supplies from outside the EU. Our dependence on any single source of energy poses a serious risk to the security of our energy supplies. A recent Eurobarometer survey shows that EU citizens clearly support action on both national and EU level to increase renewable energy usage. Unless action is taken now, the temperature of the planet is set to increase by a further three to five degrees over the next century. The energy sources that any Member State chooses to use falls under the subsidiarity principle. However, Member State governments have a responsibility to acknowledge the impact that their choices have on their neighbours, both in terms of supply security and the environment. This is precisely why real commitments must be made at the summit this month. I welcome the Commission’s call for solidarity of states in this regard. The Austrian ambitions must be maintained. This will keep pressure on Member States ahead of the Council summit later this month to coordinate national efforts. I also urge the Commission, after the Green Paper consultation period is over, to follow up this paper swiftly with concrete legislative proposals on coordinating energy policy in the EU. This potential crisis can only be overcome if collective action is taken, and taken now.
Gay Mitchell is Fine Gael MEP for Dublin. He is a member of the Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee and the Committee on Development.