Sefcovic: We want to be carbon neutral

Maroš Šefčovič, Commission Vice-President for Energy Union. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

With its Clean Energy package, the European Commission wants to combat climate change, further develop the internal market for electricity and promote a carbon neutral future with a concept. EURACTIV Germany spoke to Maroš Šefčovič.

Maroš Šefčovič is the vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the internal energy market. He talked about the future of EU energy policy at a EURACTIV Germany event on 13 November 2018 and spoke to EURACTIV’s Steffen Stierle. 

EURACTIV Germany: Mr Šefčovič, the Clean Energy package is a key element of EU energy policy. Do the measures it contains go far enough to combat climate change?

Maroš Šefčovič: Let me start by saying that today is a good day for clean energy and Europe’s future because the European Parliament has adopted very ambitious legislative proposals which can ensure that 32% of our energy comes from renewable sources and, as a result, we can honour our commitments in the Paris Agreement.

Nevertheless, much remains to be done. We have to make substantial progress in the design of the common electricity market. This is about better integrating renewable energies into the energy mix and giving consumers more power. Moreover, it’s about the role of entrepreneurs who deal with energy storage. This technology will play an important role in transforming and modernising the energy sector.

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I can therefore say that Europe is at the forefront of combating climate change. But, at the same time, we have to acknowledge that this isn’t enough. With all of our measures, we are aiming to reduce greenhouse gases by around 45% by 2030. That’s 5% more than the Paris target but the latest IPCC report clearly shows that the international community has to achieve more.

You’re talking about the joint global responsibility. COP24, which takes place in Poland in December, would be the forum for relevant agreements. What are your expectations for this conference? What does the EU want to contribute?

Europe can’t do everything on its own. We need to cooperate with partners around the world. This will be a major challenge for all of us.

As the EU, we want to use COP24 in Katowice to present our strategy which should make Europe carbon neutral in the second half of the century. This project is an enormous challenge for all economic sectors. For instance, we have to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture and in the transport sector, to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and also to rethink our daily behaviour.

We hope that we will be able to motivate other world players with our concept at COP24 because, in this area, we can only be successful together as an international community.

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You are currently in Berlin and having many discussions with representatives of the German federal government. A major energy issue, where Germany is central, is “Diesel-gate.” How do you assess the measures taken so far and what are the Commission’s key demands?

I know how difficult this debate is for Germans and also for Europeans. German cars are very popular and are manufactured in many European countries, including my home country, Slovakia. Therefore, we have to meet this challenge together.

In my opinion, the best answer to “Diesel-gate” is to focus on the future. We have to ensure that Europe continues to produce the best, and also the cleanest cars in the world. For this purpose, we had very intensive and good discussions with the Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier and leading representatives from German industry. I am pleased that Germany wants to upgrade regarding clean mobility.

It does not only come down to Germany, we need close cooperation between industry and policy. For instance, we expect that the market for batteries will already comprise €250 billion in 2030 and we will have between 25 and 35 million electric cars on the streets in the EU. Of course, it’s in our interest for these batteries to be produced in Europe because the technology is extremely important, not only for the automotive industry but also, for example, for shipping, trains and storing renewable energy.

Another important issue in the debate on energy policy is energy security. How should the EU further develop its relations with Russia, including in the context of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project?

Energy security was a central element when we started talking about the energy union. In the context of experiences of energy supply disruptions in 2009, this issue was the main concern. The questions were: how can we reduce dependencies? How can we increase diversification? And how can we establish legal guarantees so that such a situation is not repeated?

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Over the past two years, we have achieved a good deal. Most member states now have access to at least three sources of gas supply, the legal guarantees were increased and no member states can now be pushed into a contract that is incompatible with EU law.

Also, transparency over the member states’ sources of energy supply was also increased, so that there is now better assessment of whether there is a threat to supply security. Diversification is, for example, increased by the fact that there has been heavy investment in LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals, which better connects us to the global energy market. Overall, we are in a significantly better situation today for these reasons.

Nevertheless, or perhaps for this very reason, Nord Stream 2 is a very polarising project. Around half of our member states oppose it for political reasons or reasons related to energy security. We are therefore currently working to ensure that every pipeline project, including Nord Stream 2, has to be fully compatible with European law. We are working together with the European Parliament and member states on relevant agreements.

At the same time, we are intensively working together with Ukraine and Russia on a trilateral basis in order to reach a new agreement on the implementation of gas, which starts where the agreement expires next year. The next round of negotiations in this context will hopefully be held before Christmas and I’m confident that we will make good progress.

Finally, you recently withdrew your candidacy to be the Spitzenkandidat for the social democrat political family. We still expect to see you back on the European stage after the European elections. What political priorities do you want to have for the coming period?

Thanks for your optimism (laughs). I’m glad to have the opportunity to bring up topics which there is not always enough time for on a daily basis. In my view, we are living at a time when we have to think strategically. In the social democrat party, I brought up four points for the forthcoming elections which I hope will also be in the manifesto and later in the next Commission’s work programme.

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Firstly, how do we get to an industrial policy for the 21st century? For example, this concerns topics such as the production of battery cells, which we have already discussed, artificial intelligence or a European supercomputer. Secondly, I would like to talk about the EU’s trade policy because we can no longer accept the way China deals with European businesses in its territory. We have to assert that China treats our businesses the same that we treat Chinese businesses in Europe.

Thirdly, we have to modernise state support mechanisms, as shown, for example, by the experience with the production of battery cells. Here, we have to adjust to the global level and the existing challenges. And finally, we have to invest more in young people in Europe. The requirement has to be that our youth are prepared as well as possible for the globalised economy. In order to do this, young people need to have permanent access to further training and education opportunities. The very successful Erasmus programme should be extended accordingly.

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