Expert: The EU falters on common energy interests

Arunas Molis.jpg

No matter how much we talk about a common EU energy policy, many examples show that some member states don't favour setting up trans-border links, and Poland is clearly one of them, Dr Ar?nas Molis told EURACTIV Czech Republic in an exclusive interview.

Dr Ar?nas Molis is the head of Strategic Analysis and Research Division in the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Vilnius.

He spoke to EURACTIV Czech Republic’s Adela Denkova.

Do the European Union and the United States face the same challenges in terms of energy policies, or do their situations differ too much? 

Each of these two unions functions on a different basis. That is important to bear in mind when we talk about some kind of common energy policy. The United States has a central government which can set at least some requirements that are essential to implement what was planned and also to control the implementation of different priorities, the fulfilment of strategic objectives etc. Europe is in a different situation. Of course, it also faces different challenges than those of the United States, but from the general point of view, the biggest difference is the diverse approach towards coordination and common energy policy, of both its internal and external dimension, and the creation of a common energy market.

The EU always has to face problems which do not exist in the United States. The things which would not be understandable in the U. S are the specific national characteristics which hinder certain agreements and certain problems. For example each EU member state has its national champions. Of course, we can discuss the energy dependence problem or the diversification issue which are relevant on both sides, but the solutions are more effective in the United States I would say. This is actually the reality we face in Europe today – the issue of coordination.

What are the differences between new and old member states of the EU in terms of energy policy?

You can find many differences among the new members and among old members and also similarities between the old states and the newcomers, and these similarities are also relevant. We can look for instance at the most important issue of common EU energy policy. For years it has been the creation of single energy market and construction of new infrastructure projects which would link different member states in the electricity and gas sector. The open market is in the interest of the new member states; most essentially the eastern states like the Visegrad group [Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary]. And it is also in the main interest of the states with traditional market dependence like the United Kingdom.

At the same time some older member states may try to protect their national market. And this doesn’t apply to old member states only. Take Poland for example. We cannot say that for 100 % Poland is always in favour of the creation of single market. We have got the case of electricity interconnection between Poland and Lithuania. We have been discussing this for 15 years. And it is the same with the gas interconnection between the two countries. Of course we can agree on the need to create a common energy market and integrate the Baltics to Central Eastern European electricity market. But on the other hand we also see what the burdens are. It is a question of competition. Industry in Poland sees possible competition coming from the Baltics and from Nordic countries. If we [Lithuania] achieved to construct a nuclear power plant for instance or if we are connected with Sweden and get cheap hydropower, it is quite clear that the Polish producers would suffer. So actually – do we have common interests? The new EU member states in most cases probably would answer “yes” but in practical examples you can see that it is more complicated. And there are many other differences among the member states. You can also imagine a division between small and large states, between more dependent and less dependent states…

… or a division according to whether they use nuclear power or not.

Right, on this issue there is also a division among the old member states. Austria or Germany on the one hand want to abandon nuclear power, while France or the United Kingdom on the other hand want to develop it.

Is there a space for cooperation between the U.S. and the EU in energy? Much has been said about the possible replication of the American shale gas boom on Europe and potential cooperation in this area. But what are the other potentials?

Of course there is a space. The easiest way is to cooperate in the practical things of course. The cooperation in the sphere of unconventional gas is one such area. Generally, for many member states the priority is to improve the tool for mutual coordination and to use the EU-U.S. energy dialogue in a more efficient way. Most probably we will see some proposals from the Lithuanian presidency in the Council of the EU how to renew it.

But this dialogue does not include only the practical issues. Among the priorities, there is also an aim to start developing what is called the external dimension of the EU common energy policy – that means relations with partners. Sometimes, these are quite difficult partners. We talk about Russia, South Caucasian countries, Middle Eastern countries or Africa and sometimes also China and India. When we talk about deeper involvement and deeper partnership between the Western countries and energy suppliers and transporters, I think that while doing this together with the United States, Europe could get more than while doing this job separately. We have NATO for instance whose members can develop the pressure on the third parties in a quite efficient way. For example in the case of the construction of a certain energy infrastructure project or the protection of critical infrastructure for instance. We can mention Azerbaijan who would be interested to protect their critical infrastructure from both physical and cyber-attacks but they need a support – the support of NATO, actually.

Sometimes we can hear opinions in the EU that besides fulfilling its own climate goals, the Union should also push big polluters, such as the United States, to work harder on decreasing the CO2 emissions. Some stakeholders in the EU are in fact cautious when it comes to the debate about post-2020 goals. They say Europe should care more about its economy. How do you look at this situation?

First of all, I would not talk about the United States as the main player who is pushed by the EU to care more about the emissions. The EU focuses on this topic in certain partnership agreements like for example the Action plan of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Europeans try to put some obligations on the partners to work more on energy efficiency, on decreasing CO2 emissions etc. It is a very simple logic. Most of the countries in these partnerships adopt technologies from Western countries. After that they consume less energy resources, this would mean that there are more energy resources available for Europe, actually.

Inside the EU, some of the member states care more about the environment and less about the costs. Austria, Netherlands or Germany in some cases – these are the examples where really not only the costs matter. For other countries, the environment can be just one of many arguments. For example, in the Baltics we do not want to have a nuclear power plant in Kaliningrad or Belarus because it could be environmentally dangerous. But for some European countries it is really the main issue.

A very good example is Austria who pushed Lithuania to close down the Ignalina power plant as one of the conditions of becoming an EU member. What was that? Was it an attempt to get rid of competitors on electricity market? No, most probably the people believed that this infrastructure was dangerous. Environment is an issue for them. And today we see the same in northern countries where the environmental issues are put in the first place – as in Denmark for instance. The investments are expensive and maybe there would be more gas or enough oil offshore Denmark. But they still invest in windmills.

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