Improving European energy infrastructure

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The European Union needs to create the energy infrastructure that is needed to secure the continent's energy independence, including by completing projects on time and establishing smart energy networks, argues MEP Francisco Sosa Wagner.

Franciso Sosa Wagner is an author, professor and an unattached Spanish member of the European Parliament. He sits on the committee on industry, research and energy.

This commentary was first published in Confrontations Europe's monthly newsletter 'Interface'.

"Energy issues have been referred to in documents issued by the European Commission since the 1990s. In 2006, the objectives of the energy policy were established: common market, promotion of renewable energy, [the] fight against climate change, supply security and diversification of sources.

Subsequently, the famous '20-20-20' targets (20% reduction in greenhouse gases, 20% improvement in energy efficiency and 20% increase in renewable energy use) became the focal point of European discussions.

At the same time, it became clear that bilateral geopolitics were not effective and should be replaced by a common energy policy incorporated into the external policy. The Lisbon Treaty contains a whole section on energy. Nevertheless, each member state has conserved its supply structure and its energy mix.

The purpose of the report that we approved in July is to improve energy infrastructures, which are, according to the European Commission, 'outdated and poorly interconnected'.

Substantial changes have been made: [a] spectacular increase in the production of wind energy in the North Sea and Baltic regions; huge renewable energy potential in Southern Europe and North Africa; problems deriving from large-scale electricity storage; new requirements in terms of recharging electric vehicles and transport; the issue of CO2 and hydrogen storage, etc.

We cannot address these issues without planning new networks and new connections both within the EU and with third countries. We must now push ahead with defining the infrastructures needed:

a) Establish criteria for selecting projects 'of European interest' and put an end to 'energy islands'.

b) Make sure that these projects are implemented within a reasonable timeframe and find way around the issue of different authorisation and licensing procedures in different member states.

c) Provide the funds needed to attract and promote private investment.

Energy efficiency – and saving – are essential components of any new policy. We believe that, thanks to the reduction in energy demand, dependence on imports can be lessened by addressing the need for appropriate public and private local infrastructures.

We cannot emphasise enough the necessity of creating smart networks to effectively link energy production, transport and distribution, hence encouraging more moderate, energy-saving consumption patterns.

The main question that arose as this report was being prepared was how to handle authorisations and other administrative requirements: projects are dragging on because of local opposition to the building of new facilities.

To resolve this conflict without infringing on the competences of the member states, we believe that local populations should be kept informed from a very early stage. In addition, we encourage the Commission to introduce a progressive warning system for member states that fail to respond to authorisation applications within a reasonable timeframe.

We have some very ambitious goals to meet and we will need everyone's help to do so. It is therefore vital that businesses operating in the energy sector take part and that they support this stable regulatory framework, which is not subject to the transitory whims of governments and provides the best means of funding their efforts.

Up until now, the EU's energy policy has lacked a strong 'European' impetus. It is time we realised that national energy policies are a thing of the past. Europe must 'speak with a common voice', an audible voice that echoes loud and clear off the walls of the European edifice."

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