The Brief – Beware the clean energy counter-revolution

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

The EU was supposed to enable us all to take part in the energy transition and help make Europe’s economy a low-carbon one. It’s easy to see why the member states would be against this but it’s more surprising that the Parliament is not championing citizens’ clean energy hopes.

In November 2016, the European Commission tabled a bold proposal to create a ‘clean energy’ market for the 21st century:

Millions of households, schools, farms and hospitals placing solar panels on their rooftops, generating their own electricity and selling the surplus back to the grid. Millions more plugging in their electric car to a socket inside their homes and offices, contributing to balancing the grid and stabilising the power system.

Entire neighbourhoods generating their own wind, solar or biogas and sharing the benefits among themselves in so-called “energy communities”. Millions of jobs created in the installation and maintenance of these small-scale renewable energy facilities, contributing to the revival of rural areas.

That was the revolutionary vision at the centre of the ‘Clean Energy for all Europeans’ package, championed by Commissioners Šefčovič and Cañete.

One could be forgiven for expecting EU member states to resist such a sweeping revolution. After all, governments are often the advocates of their former energy monopolies, which for the most part, have a vested interest in defending the traditional model of centralised electricity generation, built around large-scale power plants. And indeed, they didn’t disappoint.

By the same token, one should expect the European Parliament – as the institution representing the interest of ordinary citizens – to put up a fight and defend the European Commission’s bold vision.

Well, don’t hold your breath. Krišjānis Kariņš, a Latvian lawmaker from the European People’s Party (EPP), has drafted a report on the Commission’s proposed new electricity market design, which lays down rules on how power is going to be generated and traded in the years ahead.

And he has just about deleted every provision contained in the Commission’s initial proposal that would have protected small producers of renewable energy from the vagaries of the market.

His justification is as simple as liberal economic theory. “Providing exemptions to some market participants means discriminating against others, which fundamentally undermines the market structure,” he writes in his draft report.

But like many things, theory and reality can be very different. A farmer or a hospital warden placing solar panels on their roof cannot be expected to fill in the same kind of paperwork as a big energy utility owning a park of nuclear power stations. And it would be foolish to expect a small producer to fight on equal terms with a multi-billion-euro energy behemoth.

Yet, this is more or less what the Kariņš report is asking them to do. And where exemptions have been granted, he wants them scrapped over time.

It remains to be seen whether other lawmakers in the European Parliament will back the ultra-liberal views defended by the US-educated Kariņš. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Greens/EFA and leftist GUE/NGL groups have certainly decided to side with the Commission’s bold vision.

But it is still unclear where other groups will stand – notably the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). A vote in the Parliament’s industry committee is scheduled for 21 February.

Beware, the energy counter-revolution is nigh.

The Roundup

After hundreds of thousands protested in Athens about the ongoing Macedonia name dispute, the Commission refused to involve itself further in the fracas.

UK Brexit chief David Davis hosted EU counterpart Barnier to step up talks over the transition deal and future EU-UK (trade) relations. Negotiations will continue on the fundamental issues tomorrow. Ryanair has reiterated that the UK is underestimating the disruption Brexit will have.

The race to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the first post-Brexit European Commission begins later this month, with a row about how the race should be run. Look out for our coverage from Strasbourg.

In the Brussels game of ‘spot the next Commission chief’, Europe’s pygmy politics are setting a high barrier for the establishment of a proper EU foreign policy, argues Friends of Europe’s Giles Merritt.

After a week of coalition talks, the cornerstones of a new government programme seem to be set but some “plot holes” still have to be closed before Germany makes its comeback in the European arena.

Insisting on full membership of the bloc is the only option, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected proposals for a mere partnership with the EU.

There is no single universal and quick cure for corruption. However, there is hope for containment, writes Adina Turk of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

Promoting entrepreneurship among women in low-income neighbourhoods can be a solution to the unemployment problem in Europe. Read how a project of the French international business school HEC tries to tackle the problem.

Plastic has become increasingly unpopular with the public. But life without it might look very different when it comes to the Commission’s new Plastics Strategy. Read our summary of the current state-of-play.

Look out for…

The debate on the future of Europe and the fate of the controversial “Spitzenkandidat” concept in tomorrow’s Strasbourg plenary.

Views are the author’s

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