EU attempts to ‘speak with one voice’ on energy

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Günter Oettinger, the EU's energy commissioner, yesterday (7 September) unveiled proposals aimed at strengthening the EU's voice on energy matters vis-à-vis foreign countries such as Russia. But the proposal appears to face an uphill battle.

The European Commission adopted a Communication on security of energy supply and international cooperation yesterday (7 September), setting out for the first time a comprehensive strategy for the EU's external relations in energy.

It remains unclear if the policy proposals, which are non-binding, will ever become law, but Oettinger said he hoped EU countries would back it.

"The Commission proposes today a coherent approach in the energy relations with third countries. This need to improve internal coordination so that the EU and its member states act together and speak with one voice," Oettinger said.

The energy commissioner said he was counting on the Polish EU Presidency, a strong supporter of a coordinated European energy policy vis-à-vis Russia, to push forward the proposal.

The strategy lists 43 concrete actions, among which:

  • EU countries would share between themselves information about international agreements with third countries in the field of energy. This includes agreements which are still under negotiation. On a case-by-case basis, the Commission may provide an opinion on the conformity of these agreements with EU law and with the EU's security of supply objectives.
  • Energy agreements with third countries could also be negotiated at EU level where necessary to achieve the EU's core objectives. This is the case in an agreement being negotiated with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, where a specific mandate from the Council has been requested.
  • The EU will propose a new partnership on renewable energy projects with Southern Mediterranean countries.
  • The EU will call for international legally-binding nuclear safety standards in multilateral discussions, including under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and will aim to extend nuclear safety assessments to the EU's neighbouring countries.
  • EU development policy will include a greater emphasis on improving access to sustainable energy for less-developed and developing countries.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek warmly welcomed the Commission communication. "The Commission came up with a timely and good proposal […] Creating a real European Energy Community is just as important as the 1992 single market project," he said. 

Buzek is known to be a strong promoter of an EU 'energy community', and alongside former Commission President Jacques Delors a new EU treaty to put in place such a project.

"I have always argued the European Union must present a single interface in its relations with its external partners, both the energy producer and transit countries  […] I welcome in particular as a step towards joint purchasing the idea of establishing a mechanism for increased transparency and information exchange on member states' bilateral energy agreements with third countries […] The European Parliament will examine the communication closely," Buzek stated.

Another prominent Polish MEP, European People's Party-affiliated Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, stressed that he expected, given the impetus provided by the Polish EU Presidency and with the constructive contribution of the European Parliament, the Commission proposal to give birth to "a truly proactive energy diplomacy".

But other voices in Parliament sounded less enthusiastic.

Commenting on the communication, Green energy spokesperson Claude Turmes MEP (Luxembourg) said that instead of seeking to cure Europe's "damaging addiction to fossil-fuel imports", the Commission was persisting with a strategy "aimed at feeding our habit".

"Today's communication is preoccupied by an antiquated approach looking to ensure fossil fuel deliveries to the EU through so-called partnerships with transit and supplier countries, with no attention given to forming strategic alliances with those countries looking to push forward with green energy technologies," Turmes said.

The business community also voiced sceptical views.

Kjetil Tungland, managing director of the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), lamented the fact that the Commission had not developed a clear strategy on much-needed gas imports from the Caucasus, based on realistic assumptions regarding available volumes.

"The first step should be to develop a cost-effective pipeline that will be ready to bring the volumes currently under discussion to the EU as soon as they become available," Tungland said.

He added that the strategy Europe needs should focus on the gas volumes currently under discussion and make sure they are brought to European consumers when they become available.

The position expressed by the UK Conservatives makes it difficult to believe that the Commission proposal will receive London's blessing. Giles Chichester MEP, Conservative spokesman on energy in the European Parliament, condemned the proposal as "the worst kind of meddling".

He said: "Our energy arrangements are Britain's own business, not the Commission's. This is an attempt to control and interfere with our individual trading interests on a new and deeply worrying scale. The Commission is up to its old empire-building tricks."

Julia Eichhorst, a spokesperson for Eurelectric said: "We welcome the fact that the Commission is addressing the topic, but believe that the emphasis is the wrong way round: an external energy policy with one voice will not, as the Commission states, serve to complete an internal EU energy market; rather an internal energy market will automatically lead to EU member states speaking with one voice externally. Completing the internal energy market is therefore crucial for a successful external EU energy policy."


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