Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič told euractiv.com that the Trump administration may be more protectionist than its predecessor. But he is not worried about the impact on the energy market, despite Europe’s immense import needs.
Maroš Šefčovič is European Commission vice-president for the Energy Union. He is a Slovak diplomat.
Šefčovič spoke with EURACTIV’s Jorge Valero during the World Economic Forum in Davos.
What messages did you take from the Davos Forum?
The first message is that leaders and stakeholders perceive that Europe is ready to continue providing leadership when it comes to energy transition, the fight against climate change and introducing smart policies in our cities and our transports. A second very important impression is the expectation that Europe will speak up for free and fair trade, given that we are the biggest trader and largest economy.
Everybody believes that global trade has brought a lot of wealth. But, at the same time, it is perceived that it needs to be fairer. Thirdly, our clean energy package is perceived very positively. It is one of our most progressive proposals: how to transform the energy market. Therefore the proposals we are going to put forward this year, for example on smart mobility or clean transport, will be studied very carefully.
Trump’s senior adviser, and his envoy to Davos, Anthony Scaramucci, also promised free and fair trade. Is the US really on the same page on this issue?
My impression is that everybody will wait for the first steps taken by the new US administration with a lot of expectation. The US has been traditionally the champion of global trade. Some statements suggest they want to introduce measures that could bring some protectionism. As the largest trader and champion of free trade we cannot support that.
What would be the impact on the global energy market, given that the EU needs to import most of its energy?
We are one of the biggest energy importers. We will follow all the developments very carefully. Now we are in a lucky period. We have an abundance of energy, of oil and gas. We are also increasing our energy efficiency, and reducing our dependence by incorporating more and more renewal energy. We need to continue progressing in our interconnectors. But we should not worry about protectionism in the energy market because currently there are a lot of sellers who are looking for solid clients like Europe.
What would the consequence of close ties between Putin and Trump be on the Energy Union?
It is difficult to speculate, but I would say that we could be confident enough. We are such a big market and important destination for energy exporters that everybody wants to be in good terms with us. We pay on time and with a stable currency, we are predictable and very solid partners. Therefore people are very much interested in exporting energy to us. I know that Russia and the US could compete because both of them want to export their gas. It is expected that by 2020 the US could be the largest liquefied natural gas exporter on the planet.
Are you concerned about the US retreating from the Paris Agreement to fight climate change?
Let’s wait to see what they do. But the message was more moderated in the hearings compared to what heard in the campaign. Besides, American businesses invested a lot in renewal energy. It was not only because of their desire to save the planet. They did it because it was modern technology, and there was a strong business case, bringing huge potential for the future. Everyone I met in Davos told me how glad they are about Europe’s readiness to continue providing leadership on this issue.
What is the state of play of the Nord Stream 2 case?
Our assessment from last year still stands. We see that even during this harsh winter we are using the energy infrastructure to transport gas between Russia and Europe at 60%. Therefore I am calling for a more precise assessment of the economic arguments (about) what we really need. I always highlight the importance of having preferably more routes to bring the energy to Europe. It remains of key importance for us to preserve the Ukrainian gas transit route. Besides, for any infrastructure project of this magnitude in Europe, European law must be observed. We will be able to judge when we have more concrete proposals on the table.
Why has the Commission not come up with a definitive assessment yet?
It is worth remembering that there were a lot of changes made to the original project. The consortium behind the project does not exist anymore, because of the anti-monopoly ruling of a Polish Court. The new setup to implement the project is more in Gazprom’s hands. In this regard, the basic information affecting this project has changed over the last year. I stated officially in the European Parliament that a project of this magnitude must respect the EU law. But since the information about the dissolution of the consortium was published last autumn we have not received any new information yet.
Some business leaders from the energy sector are calling for the end of coal subsidies. What is your view?
Environmentally harmful subsidies are one of the issues being discussed at several levels. Europe is pushing at G7 and G20 level to have a common global approach on how to phase out these subsidies because they represent an enormous financial burden and the money could be used in a more efficient way.
What is the Commission’s position, or your personal view on this issue?
We are all aware of the social consequences of phasing out these subsidies and the need to provide support during the transition of carbon-intensive regions in Europe. That was also part of our proposals last December: bringing new opportunities to the citizens in these regions, and supporting them so that they can develop new businesses, as happened in several places in Europe, like in Germany and Belgium.