Half-time for the Juncker Commission

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Energy Union chief Maroš Šefčovič [European Commission]

The European Commission has just reached the midpoint of its mandate, providing a good opportunity to look back at the first two and a half years in office, and think about the remaining time ahead, writes Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič.

Maroš Šefčovič is a Slovak diplomat and a vice-president of the European Commission, in charge of the Energy Union.

Policymaking does not have a ‘beginning’ and an ‘end’. It is a process which accompanies the natural development of society; it attempts to tackle new challenges, learn from past experience and envision a better future. It is therefore done in iterations in which new policies constantly replace or are added to the old ones.

And yet, there are moments in which we try to look back and make sure we are still on the right track. This is an important exercise for the press whose job is to scrutinise our performance and compare it to our promises.

It is important for citizens to see that their public servants are indeed serving them. It is also important for us, decision-makers, to measure the impact of our actions.

In the private sector, this exercise is often simpler, given that key performance indicators (KPIs) can be clearly set. In sport, it is easy to see a clear result at ‘halftime’ or at the end of the game.

However, in policymaking, evaluating the outcome is often more difficult. Decisions which we take today do not always have an immediate impact. We strive to prescribe policies with a long-term effect, one which will last well after our mandate is over.

The challenge is even more pronounced when it comes to EU decision-making, which is highly complex. It needs to bring into account the special context of each member state; it needs to win the support of the governments and elected members of European Parliament; and it needs to take deep consideration of all regions and sectors across Europe, whether private, public, or civil.

Finally, it needs to guarantee the Commission’s objectives of creating jobs and enticing growth across the European Union. This decision-making process is therefore not famous for being fast. It is a cumbersome process which needs to be handled with great attention and care.

And yet, as mentioned, the scrutiny exercise is necessary. What we do is compare our original promises and objectives to the policies we have put in place to achieve them. In my case, I was entrusted with setting up the Energy Union: an overarching transformation which is set to provide all Europeans energy which is sustainable, secure, and competitive.

The objectives may sound simple but in practice, they imply a profound transformation across the entire economy, across numerous policies, such as transport, energy, climate, environment, consumer rights, trade, regional development, internal market, etc etc.

In fact, since the original Coal and Steel Community which brought together the founding EU member states in the 1950s, there has never been such an ambitious attempt to reform and tie together our energy markets.

Once again, when we speak about the Energy Union, we refer to ‘energy’ in its largest sense, one which is in the heart of practically all other sectors and therefore requires the adaptation of all other sectors.

At this point, two and a half years after we took office, I can proudly say that almost all the legislative actions that we planned back then are now enshrined in concrete and detailed proposals.

It is also worth mentioning that this process does not concern only us in the European Union. As a global leader in the fight against climate change, Europe was a decisive force in reaching and later ratifying the Paris Agreement – a historic success story, where the entire community joined forced and actions.

As part of our follow-up, we are involved in numerous international initiatives to bring our partners around the world to work together. I could mention the Global Covenant of Mayors and Cities for Climate and Energy, or the Mission Innovation, in which all major economies are committed to advance their research and development on clean technologies.

I say that ‘almost’ all legislation is ready because we are in the midst of preparing a major legislative package on the future of mobility and transport. It is no secret that this sector is advancing at a dazzling pace, with emerging technologies which we could have only dreamed of a few years back.

Our objective is, therefore, to ensure that Europe is ready for this transition; that Europe can lead it and set the path to other countries and regions around the world; that Europe can enjoy the first-mover’s advantage in that field.

More concretely, we are putting in place legislation to ensure that Europe’s future transport is clean, competitive, and connected.

‘Clean’ because it’s time we improve the quality of the air we breathe and minimise our impact on climate change.

Competitive‘ because Europe’s transport industry (whether automobile, rail, aeroplanes or maritime) is a global leader and I’d like this to continue in the future, providing European citizens with the best products and services at the best price.

‘Connected’ because digital services are about to disrupt and improve our mobility services, and is at the heart of our effort to modernise Europe’s economy. The legislation on mobility will be presented in two separate packages by the end of this year.

Are we therefore done with building the Energy Union? Not at all. The next step in the process is to make sure that our legislative proposals are accepted by the EU co-legislators, namely the national governments and the directly-elected European Parliament. This entails negotiations, consultations, and candid conversations.

I am personally on the road to visit each and every EU member state in order to campaign for the change; for keeping the ambition high for the necessary transformation; for ensuring that as many Europeans as possible are part of the process.

I, therefore, do not only meet with the national governments and parliaments but also with civil society, professional associations, workers’ unions, and of course with citizens.

On my current tour, I also focus on meeting with our youth. Digital-native “millennials” bring a unique approach to our discussions and have ideas that people of my generation would not necessarily think about. I also make sure to visit concrete projects, often far away from the capitals.

I discover a plethora of visionary projects turning Europe’s regions and cities into ‘smart regions’ and ‘smart cities’. These deserve our attention so their experience and knowledge can spill over to other cities and regions across Europe.

Now, I’d like to throw the ball back to your court. Don’t just take my word for our progress, be part of it! I invite you to engage, to speak up, to blog and tweet, to participate in our public discussions at all levels.

I encourage you to do so at your city, regional, professional, or academic level. I encourage you to do so with your national decision-makers. And of course, I invite you to do it at a European level. Help us make the Energy Union a success story for Europe’s citizens.