Buzek calls for EU ‘energy community’

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European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek told EU leaders on Thursday (10 December) that a ‘European Energy Community’ could become the next big EU project, similar to the European Coal and Steel Community, which played a major role in the Union’s history sixty years ago.

Speaking to the press after having met EU leaders gathered in Brussels for a two-day summit ending today (11 December), Buzek said it was “paramount” for the Union to identify big European projects that countries can pursue jointly.

“These projects should also be understandable by our citizens. There are many suggestions to this, and the plan should be big enough to meet the challenges awaiting us. The European Energy Community is one of these suggestions,” he said.

“Such a project is recommendable to the entire community as a driving force to increase competitiveness on the global scale,” Buzek declared.

The Parliament president recalled that back in 1950, the European Coal and Steel Community had represented exactly such a project and had become the backbone of the European project.

As the world is confronted with climate change challenges and needs to secure sufficient energy supplies, the objective is to link those issues, the Pole argued. He further explained that the project would encompass cross-border connections and major investments, as well as gas purchases from third countries and measures to meet all the major challenges facing the EU today, including the economic downturn.

Agriculture and transport would also be covered by the project, as in many respects green energy is related to agriculture, and a lot of energy is lost in transport, he said.

“It is difficult to overcome the crisis if you don’t have a strong and relatively cheap source of energy,” Buzek said.

In this context, the Polish politician said the EU would be in much better position to negotiate gas prices with Russia if it were to speak with one voice.

“I am convinced that for the EU as a whole, it would be much better to talk with our neighbours jointly about oil and gas, gas in particular, because when we negotiate separately, we start competing with each other. And this gives better opportunities to our suppliers, who have several customers to choose between. They can try to divide us. By negotiating jointly, we will have a stronger position, which goes without saying,” he said.

Buzek said the reason why it was so difficult for the EU to launch its Nabucco gas pipeline project was lack of unity, because other projects being pushed through by Russia with the help of individual member states were competing with Nabucco. Through this Community, Europe shall overcome those differences, he said.

The Parliament president said several EU leaders had spoken out in favour of the project, which he had been advocating for two years (EURACTIV 05/11/09). However, the debate was still in a preliminary phase, he recognised.

“I haven’t heard any critical voices about it, frankly,” he added, concluding on an optimistic note. 

Speaking recently to a small group of journalists, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso likened EU policies to address climate change and improve energy security to the European Coal and Steel Community (EURACTIV 07/09/09).

Barroso added that in terms of policies, the EU's leadership in addressing the climate change challenge had been "by far" the greatest EU success.

Europe may have a vision, but it must try to reach it in pragmatic ways, Barroso cautioned, recalling that Jean Monnet did not say "let's create the United States of Europe" but instead created solidarity in the strategic coal and steel industries. With climate change and energy security, he said the present Commission was doing something similar at the outset of the 21st century.

"Coal and steel was to reconcile the former enemies, Germany and France […] Honestly, some countries in Europe were not so enthusiastic towards the agenda about climate change, but they were concerned about energy security. So we linked both," Barroso said, adding that in Europe it is often possible to harbour larger ambitions than smaller ones.

"If the Commission had just proposed a climate change agenda, it would be very difficult to have consensus," he pointed out. 

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