Oettinger calls for ‘Europeanisation’ of energy powers

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Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger has called for a pooling of national powers to set energy policy in Brussels after 2014, in an unscripted speech to European policymakers yesterday (31 January).

Oettinger said some EU members were not committed to the idea of “a true single market in energy” – which is due by 2014 but beset by national foot-dragging – and called for Brussels to “take stock” of what had not been achieved “because primary law was not sufficient.”  

“At the end of the day, what I am looking for is full competence,” he told a European Economic and Social Committee conference, “including of the energy mix and the decisions about how energy is processed.”

“At the moment, it’s a matter for member states, but it should, I believe, fall into the hands of the Parliament and Council.”

Oettinger said that he had to work within existing powers of the European Commission, but that “in 2014 maybe it will be time to decide formally on deepening primary powers”.

Turkish energy chapter

In an unusually outspoken speech, the commissioner also spoke of his wish to open an energy chapter with Turkey in the current accession talks, and to enlarge Europe’s energy community to take in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and the Maghreb.

“Energy does not stop at the borders of the EU,” he said.

Sources in the renewable energy industry were not impressed by Oettinger's talk. “Europe urgently needs to make faster progress towards a single market in electricity, and the Commission should concentrate on realistic ways to speed it up,” one told EURACTIV.

“The member states are not going to give up decision-making on energy mix,” he added. “This is a distraction.”

Lisbon treaty

Under Article 194 of the Lisbon Treaty, EU member states have competency over their choice, use and structuring of energy resources.

Together, these have traditionally been viewed as a national security concerns and sometimes, Oettinger said, a method of manipulating prices according to electoral cycles.

Several member states have still not transposed, or only partly transposed, the EU's third energy package – which would harmonise European markets – into their legislation, and the national energy mosaic has, arguably, fragmented common energy policymaking.

While EU states such as France depend on nuclear energy for 90% of their electricity, Poland sources 90% of its energy from coal and Germany is attempting to move towards providing 100% of its electricity from renewables.

“These are strong arguments for giving [us] those powers,” Oettinger said. “In the next decade you would give greater value, or decide on a higher value for renewable energy in the [EU] energy mix.”

21st century problems

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said that he supported Oettinger’s call for Europeanisation, because securing the EU’s energy security and autonomy could only be achieved through more integration.

“All those who want to tell us that the solution is at a national level are wrong,” he said. “Integration on top of what is done at a national level is the only way we will solve our 21st century problems.”

However, he cautioned, that no changes in the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 194 were likely in the short term.

“The [energy] choice is made by member states and they are right to choose and we cannot get rid of that,” he said. “But the right to choose your energy mix is a problem and were going to have to talk about it a lot.”

By 3 March 2011, all EU member states were supposed to have transposed the EU’s 2009 ‘third energy package’ into national law, setting common rules for electricity and gas across the bloc. However, in practice, several countries have still not completed the transposition process, and several more have only partly transposed the legislation. Infringement proceedings could follow.

The EU's first electricity and gas directives were adopted in the late 1990s, with the objective of opening up the electricity and gas markets by gradually introducing competition. The European Commission argued that liberalisation increases the efficiency of the energy sector and the competitiveness of the European economy as a whole. But many stakeholders and member states disagree. 

The third energy package includes 'unbundling' guidelines requiring energy transmission networks to run independently from the production and supply side. But of three possible unbundling models, completely separating production from distribution is considered the toughest option. Suppliers would thus have to sell their gas to transport businesses. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has energetically opposed this choice.

A second possibility is that companies would not be split up, but that an independent operator would be appointed for the transport infrastructure, the activities of which would be limited to one country. The third choice would mean that companies were not split up, but that a special board would take responsibility for their 'independent' decision-making.

2014: Single energy market due to come into effect

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