Parliament chief drums up support for EU ‘energy community’

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Europe is at a crossroads: to boost growth and emerge from the economic crisis, it needs to forge an energy community with or without treaty change, said European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek at a meeting with national parliamentarians in Brussels. 

"Even without changing the EU Treaty, there is a great deal that we can do together," said Buzek after the meeting on Monday (7 June).

"But only if national governments are interested in this common policy will the energy community see the light and win the day," he added.

The EU needs new instruments to develop sustainable and affordable alternative energy sources, Buzek said.

Indeed, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) expired in 2002, while the Euratom Treaty only deals with nuclear energy.

European parliamentarians were told by experts that Europe has four options to address the current fragmentation of Europe's energy market and put the continent in the international driving seat.

Professors Marc Van der Woude and Leigh Hancher recommended making use of existing legal tools, such as including energy solidarity in the Lisbon Treaty and using the text's enhanced cooperation mechanism between a minimum of nine member states.

However, they believe the best legal option would be to establish a new European Energy Treaty to rapidly address the high degree of fragmentation in energy policy, which at the moment is piggybacking on other policies like the internal market or environmental rules.

"It creates a stronger and more coherent European energy regulatory space, governed by credible institutions capable of delivering results," said Van der Woude.

The community will be open to all, but countries will be able to opt out, explained Hancher, citing European Monetary Union as a similar example.

The new treaty would be established under the existing EU structure, as was the case for the ECSC. By allowing participating member states to develop and apply the new energy policy under the existing institutional machinery, the institutional vacuum created by the expiry of the old ECSC Treaty would be refilled, argued the professor.

But such an option does raise politically complex questions, not least the reopening of the Pandora's Box of treaty change.

The fourth and more workable option, the professors concede, would be to prompt cooperation in certain areas on a functional or regional basis. Such as initiative would follow the so-called Schengen model of "à la carte" EU integration and could see the establishment of a trading platform, a network treaty or the pooling R&D projects on energy, for example.

Buzek seemed to support the latter option. For the European Parliament president, common action must focus on building networks and storage capabilities to shelter Europe from energy crises like the one prompted in January 2009 by the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute.

"The European Union must present a single interface in its relations with its external partners, both producers and transit countries," Buzek said.

"The EU must have the ability to pool its supply capacities and to engage in coordinated energy purchasing, should the need arise," he wrote together with Jacques Delors in a joint declaration last year (EURACTIV 11/12/09).

"We need to change the way we behave too," he said, adding that that was the job of national parliaments.

National MPs back initiative

National MPs were quick to agree with Buzek. The chair of the French Assembly's European affairs committee, Pierre Lequiller, proposed genuine energy diplomacy to put Europe in the driving seat on the international stage.

Edmund Wittbrodt, chair of the European affairs committee in the Polish Senate, stressed that national energy policies need to be upgraded and Europe must have a common energy infrastructure.

"Experience shows that a number of countries have made a few steps forward, but some initiatives are lagging behind and need the European energy infrastructures," he said.

Lithuanian MPs agreed, saying that the Baltic region was seeking regional integration to set up an interface with the Scandinavian market, which would be facilitated by the energy community. "Lithuania will be in the community, you can be sure of that," said Ceslovas Stankevicius, deputy speaker of the Lithuanian parliament.

Towards a single market in existing framework

National and European parliamentarians further addressed current energy challenges in separate working groups, looking at what can be done to secure Europe's energy supplies and create a single energy market within the existing framework.

The Lisbon Treaty for the first time provides a legal basis for EU energy policy.

"Entry into the Lisbon Treaty may mean a fundamental change in our energy policy," Pedro Luis Marín Uribe, Spanish secretary of state for energy, told the conference. But he added that the absence of such an explicit provision had not stopped secondary legislation before.

He pointed to the 3rd Energy Market Liberalisation Package agreed last year, which will now have to be implemented to reap the benefits of energy liberalisation. National parliaments must transpose it into law by March 2011.

"There is no efficiently functioning single energy market without a single security space," said MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (Poland, European People's Party).

He said the parliamentarians shared the view that the EU should increase cooperation in the field of energy, but stressed that this should not only be based on a "coalition of the poor".

Spanish Secretary of State for Energy Pedro Luis Marín Uribe said the energy community could create a fundamental shift in the EU economy, but it would have to be based on "three pillars of competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability". However, it remains to be seen whether the Union or a specific energy community can achieve these goals, he added.

European Commission Vice-President Joaquin Almunia backed the "three pillar" plan, reminding participants that energy should be accessible to everybody at affordable prices for consumers and industry.

As a single energy market cannot be built from one day to the next, the focus should be on regional co-operation and specific areas inside the Union, he suggested. 

National and international parliamentary dialogue should "become the rule and not the exception, as that dialogue is part of the solution," he concluded.

Fully interconnected energy networks are a precondition for a single market, said Spanish Senator Félix Lavilla Martínez, noting that they would make it possible to reduce energy prices and so benefit consumers. Greater energy efficiency would improve the sector's competitiveness, enabling energy suppliers to redirect investment into cleaner alternative sources, he added.

Spanish MP Jesús Alique López called for greater energy efficiency and more co-operation among member states to develop cleaner technologies. Fiscal and financial support would boost production and lower costs in the long run, he said, adding that switching to electric cars would save energy as well as reducing CO2 emissions.

Former European Commission President Jacques Delors described Europe's existing policy as "suboptimal" in a policy paper published by Notre Europe think-tank (EURACTIV 07/04/10). He called for a new EU treaty to embark on a common energy policy.

Delors' call attracted the support of European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, who has been a strong advocate of an EU energy community (EURACTIV 11/12/09). He believes it could become a modern-day European Coal and Steel Community.

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