The Green Brief: In energy crisis, EU plays the long game

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If you’ve spent even a little time in the Brussels bubble, you will know the EU is not renowned for its speed. With all its decision-making paraphernalia, it is not really designed for quick solutions.

The crisis currently gripping global energy markets has exposed the EU’s inability to deal with surging prices in the short term, leaving national governments to fight the fires while Brussels focuses on the long term.

The EU’s energy commissioner Kadri Simson admitted to it in an interview with the Financial Times last week, saying the EU has no power to provide short-term fixes to the energy crisis and cannot do much about the ongoing surge in gas prices.

That said, national governments have plenty of scope under EU rules to provide support for low-income households at risk of energy poverty as well as state aid to small businesses impacted by the surge in energy prices.

“Providing targeted support to consumers, direct payments to those most at risk of energy poverty, cutting energy taxes, shifting charges to general taxation, are all measures that can be taken very swiftly, under EU rules,” Simson said in a speech to the European Parliament last week.

Those short-term fixes are outlined in a draft “toolbox” of measures, seen by EURACTIV, which the European Commission is due to present today (13 October). It may also include plans to crack down on speculators taking advantage of rising prices on the market.

Beyond this, however, the EU has little room for manoeuvre. The electricity and gas markets are functioning well and aren’t responsible for the surge in energy prices, Simson insisted, rejecting any kind of sweeping regulatory changes like those suggested by France and Spain.

In any case, far-reaching ideas such as the joint purchasing of emergency gas reserves, will not materialise in time for the coming winter season, even if EU leaders were to unanimously back the proposal at a summit on 21-22 October.

Other than that, the EU can only speed up the adoption of legislation already in the pipeline, like the Climate Social Fund to shield citizens from high carbon prices.

But don’t hold your breath, when it comes to fixes, the European Union is best at the long game. That will be illustrated in the EU’s “toolbox” to be presented today, where the European Commission will argue once again for speeding up the deployment of renewables and boosting energy savings in order to tackle the crisis.

“Let’s keep our eye on the ball. The problem here is the climate crisis,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. “The quicker we move towards renewable energy, the quicker we can protect our citizens against high prices.”

– Frédéric Simon

 

This week’s top stories

 

More stories

 

News from the capitals

BUDAPEST. Hungarian minister in Moscow for new nuclear reactor talks amid delays. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó travelled to Moscow for a day to discuss the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant with the head of Rosatom, a Russian state-owned nuclear energy corporation in charge of the works. Read more.

ZAGREB. Croatian economy minister promises to act on excise or VAT on fuel prices if necessary. Fuel prices in Croatia hit the highest level in history on Monday (11 October) night as a result of the ongoing fuel and energy crisis throughout Europe. Read more.

ZAGREB. Croatia willing to participate in building second Krsko Nuclear Power Plant block. Economy Minister Tomislav Ćorić said that next week in Slovenia, at a meeting of a Croatian and Slovenian governmental commission, he would “announce at the ministerial level Croatia’s willingness for talks on building a second block of the Krško Nuclear Power Plant.” Read more.

BELGRADE. €9 billion for Western Balkans Green agenda goals. The economic and investment plan for the Western Balkans contains financial support for achieving Green Agenda goals in the region, worth €9 billion in grants, said Serbian EU Integration Minister Jadranka Joksimović on Tuesday. Read more.

PARIS. Nine EU countries join France in a nuclear alliance. Nine EU countries have signed a joint statement backing the future use of nuclear energy to fight against climate change effectively. Read more.

ATHENS. Destroyed by wildfires, Greeks now face floods. A storm that hit central Greece over the weekend has caused severe damage to the road network, houses and agricultural properties on the island of Evia, which was ravaged by wildfires last summer. Read more.

PRISTINA. Increased energy prices lead to factory closures in Kosovo. NewCo Ferronikeli, Kosovo’s only ferronickel producer, reportedly closed production due to higher power prices amid the global energy crisis. Read more.

HELSINKI. Finland lobbies nuclear energy as a sustainable source. Following a previously secret decision, the Finnish government will lobby the European Union to declare nuclear power as a sustainable energy source. Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria mulls 2040 for end of coal. The government is considering three possible deadlines for the closure of coal-fired power plants – by 2035, 2038 or 2040, Energy Minister Andrey Zhivkov has announced, as quoted by Bulgarian National Radio (BNR). Read more.

TIRANA. Albania declares state of energy emergency amid energy crisis. Prime Minister Edi Rama on Friday declared a state of energy emergency due to the ongoing energy crisis. Read more.

SKOPJE. Energy commission: electricity price hikes should not worry Macedonians. There is no reason for panic among Macedonian citizens regarding the price of the electricity during the forthcoming months, said the Energy Regulatory Commission of North Macedonia, meta.mk reported. Read more.

 

News in brief

LEAK: environmental legislation plans for 2022 revealed. If you’ve enjoyed the adrenaline rush of new climate legislation in 2021, you’ll be happy to hear that the European Commission has got even more planned for 2022. It plans to put forward proposals on air quality, circular economy and carbon removals, according to a leak seen by EURACTIV. Here are some dates to pencil into your diary: 

  • Revision of EU Ambient Air Quality legislation (Q3 2022)
  • Revision of Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging (CLP) (May 2022)
  • Carbon removal certification (Q3 2022)
  • Initiative on Right to Repair (Q3 2022)
  • Green Transport Package (Q3 2022)
  • Measures to reduce the release of microplastics in the environment (Q3 2022)
  • Restriction on microplastics (May 2022)
  • Policy framework for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics (April 2022)
  • Communication on International Ocean Governance (June 2022)

Read more on the leak here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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EU countries give greenlight to access to justice reform. EU countries agreed on an amendment to the European Union’s access to justice for environmental matters on Wednesday (6 October). The change will see the European Union come closer to complying with the Aarhus Convention and increased access for civil society wishing to challenge administrative acts if they contravene environmental law.

“The objective of the amendment is to ensure the EU’s full compliance with the Aarhus Convention concerning the right of members of the public to request the review of non-legislative administrative acts adopted by an EU institution or body, if these acts have legal and external effects and contain provisions that may contravene environmental law,” said Andrej Vizjak, Slovenian Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning.

However, there are still concerns that Europe is not completely in line with the Aarhus Convention that the EU may need to tackle. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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When one legislative negotiation closes, another opens. On the same day as EU ministers rounded off negotiations on the Aarhus Regulation (6 October), lawmakers in the European Parliament agreed their stance on the revision of the TEN-E regulation. Lawmakers will now enter into negotiations called trilogues with EU countries on the revision to the file that decides which cross-border energy infrastructure projects can apply for things like funding and fast-tracked permitting.

Gas is expected to be the big sticking point in these talks. The negotiations are due to start this week, according to the European Council. Read the latest on the EU Council’s position here. And on the Parliament’s position here. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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‘Radical change’ needed to tackle climate crisis, Merkel says. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday (7 October) the response to climate change would require a radical change in how people live as she met Pope Francis during a farewell visit to the Vatican and Italy.

Francis and other religious leaders made a joint appeal on Monday for next month’s UN Climate Change Conference COP26 to offer concrete solutions to save the planet from “an unprecedented ecological crisis”.

Merkel praised the Pope’s position. “Humanity’s response to climate change will require a radical change in our way of living,” she told reporters after the pair also discussed biodiversity, the future of the European Union, world conflicts and sexual abuse in the Church. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters)

 

Opinions

 

Videos

Climate protestors take to Brussels streets ahead of COP26 climate summit. Tens of thousands of protestors marched through Brussels on Sunday (10 October). They called for more ambition at the COP26 climate summit, due to be held in Glasgow in November. Watch our coverage here.

NGOs call for ban on waste shipment out of the EU. NGOs protested outside the European Commission with a giant dragon towering over a map, showing the impact of Europe’s waste shipped to the rest of the world. They called on the EU executive to ban such shipments to protect the environment. Watch our coverage here.

 

Upcoming events

18 OCTOBER. COP26 – can it be a game-changer? With COP26 just around the corner, join environment committee MEP Michael Bloss, Anthony Froggatt, senior research fellow and deputy director for the energy, environment and resources programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and more to discuss the upcoming summit. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Zurich)

25 OCTOBER. Media partnership – waste-to-energy: the beauty or the beast? What will European waste management look in the next 30 years? Join speakers from the Confederation of European Waste-to-Energy Plants and NGOs to find out. Programme and registration here. (Organised by ESWET)

27 OCTOBER. Closed loop recycling in Europe: what helps and what hinders? Closed loop recycling, where packaging is collected and recycled into new packaging, has an essential role in the transition to a circular economy. Find out more from speakers, including Sirpa Pietikäinen, member of Parliament’s environment committee and industry representatives. Programme and registration here. (Supported by FEVE)

9 NOVEMBER. Working towards a stronger circular economy – how much regulation is needed? Come along to discuss the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan and whether its new initiatives, such as the digital product passport, will achieve the transparency for products that policymakers are looking for. Speakers include William Neale, advisor for circular economy at the European Commission, Joan Marc Simon, executive director of Zero Waste Europe, Emma Watkins, senior policy analyst for low carbon and circular economy at IEEP and Karl Haeusgen, president of VDMA. Programme and registration here. (Supported by VDMA)

 

On our radar

13 OCTOBER: Energy price ‘toolbox’. The European Commission is expected to present its ‘toolbox’ of measures to tackle rising energy prices. EURACTIV got hold of a draft – check it out here.

21-22 OCTOBER: EU summit. Leaders will hold a discussion on rising energy prices, based on the “toolbox” prepared by the European Commission. They will also agree the bloc’s position for the COP26 in Glasgow (climate) and COP15 in Kunming (biodiversity). (See meeting page).

31 OCTOBER – 12 NOVEMBER: COP26. Global leaders will meet in Glasgow, UK, with more ambitious climate pledges and with the aim to finish negotiations around Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

17 NOVEMBER. Deforestation and waste shipment proposals. The European Commission will propose its revision to the waste shipment regulation and a proposal on minimising the risk of imported deforestation.

2 DECEMBER: Energy Council. EU energy ministers will meet in early December in the second session since the Fit for 55 package was tabled. (See meeting page). 

14 DECEMBER: Energy, climate, transport and nature protection package. Following the publication of its huge package of climate proposals in July, the European Commission is expected to table another round of legislation, including regulations on natural gas and proposals on the circular economy. It will also put forward proposals on nature protection. See the full list here:

Climate and energy:

  • Reducing methane emissions in the energy sector
  • Revision of the third energy package for gas
  • Revision of the energy performance of buildings directive
  • Commission communication: Restoring sustainable carbon cycles
  • Council Recommendation to address the social and labour aspects of the climate transition

Efficient and green mobility package:

  • Revision of the Regulation on the trans-European transport network
  • Revision of the Directive on Intelligent Transport Systems
  • New EU urban mobility framework
  • Rail freight corridors initiative

Nature:

  • Protecting biodiversity: nature restoration targets
  • Improving environmental protection through criminal law

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