Poland hopes Tusk will create an EU Energy Union

Donald Tusk [L] will have to work hand in hand with Jean-Claude Juncker [Commission]

Donald Tusk [L] will have to work hand-in-hand with Jean-Claude Juncker. [European Commission]

This article is part of our special report Poland: Ambitious achievers.

SPECIAL REPORT: In his capacity of Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk has spearheaded the idea of an EU energy Union, and leading Polish politicians expect him to continue to do so as Council President, when he will take up the job from Herman Van Rompuy on 1 December.

Last April, Tusk said the EU should pay up to 75% of the bill for the gas infrastructure needed to be able to create an efficient network, including pipelines and interconnectors between member states. He also advocated more effective mechanisms of “gas solidarity” in the event of crisis in deliveries and common purchasing of gas from outside suppliers.

>> Read: Poland calls for EU energy union

Speaking to EURACTIV, Jerzy Buzek, MEP from Poland and former President of the European Parliament, said that Tusk will move forward the idea of a European Energy Union, aimed at achieving more independence from Russia, as in his words it is difficult to imagine a more devoted advocate of progress in this crucial area than him.

>> Read: Energy independence is the best sanction against Russia

In fact, Buzek can claim to be the father of the idea of a European Energy Union, together with former Commission President Jacques Delors. Back in December 2009, Buzek told the leaders gathered for a summit that a ‘European Energy Community’ could become the next big EU project, similar to the European Coal and Steel Community, which played a major role in the Union’s history sixty years ago.

>> Read: Buzek calls for EU ‘energy community’

Since, the name of the project has changed to ‘Energy Union’, but the essence has remained the same. On 5 May 2010 Delors, who is often referred to as one of the ‘fathers of Europe’, was hosted by Buzek in his capacity of European Parliament President, with whom he issued a common statement which explained the concept of energy community.

In a passionate speech, Delors referred to Shakespeare and blasted EU members for behaving like “Montagues and Capulets” vis-à-vis Russia and for negotiating gas purchases individually.

>> Read: Delors advocates new EU treaty

More than four years later, Buzek confirmed that the most difficult issue to be achieved remained the joint purchasing of energy, not only gas, but also electricity, from the Union’s external suppliers.

Buzek commended current Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission President José Manuel Barroso for having helped put in place a series of measures and ensure financing for interconnectors and research. He emphasised that in his new capacity of Council President, Tusk would “move things forward”.

“I can hardly imagine a more devoted advocate of progress in this crucial area than him, to lobby for the idea under its new brand of European Energy Union”, Buzek said. He insisted that the Union’s relations with Moscow had changed dramatically over the Ukraine crisis.

“I’m quite sure that the future European Council President will take note about all the changes and all the necessary actions from the point of view of the European Union”, Buzek said.

However, the election of Tusk is not seen from all quarters as good news for the EU’s climate change policy.

A senior European Commission official has told euractiv.fr that the election of Tusk as Council President represents a “challenge for climate negotiations,” as Poland has systematically tried to hold back European climate policy.

>> Read: Election of Donald Tusk puts EU climate position in doubt

Asked to comment, Buzek said that the decisions of European Council summits depend on the decisions of the leaders of the member states, not of the European Council President.

On the same issue, Polish MEP Jacez Saryusz-Wolski told EURACTIV that Poland is in favour of climate policy, provided it leads to the expected results.

“European climate policy should be as ambitious as possible, provided it is followed by others worldwide. Overambitious policies where the world’s biggest economies and polluters do not follow doesn’t make sense”, he said.

He added that the Polish support to the mainstream EU climate policies was conditional to global commitments, and that climate ambitions should not be at the expense of growth and jobs, meaning that energy in the EU should be cheaper.

Regarding the proposed Energy Union, Saryusz-Wolski said that the bottom line was that the Polish position that the EU’s energy market “should be one and not divided” and that the individual countries should not be subject to “energy pressure” was more and more shared  by all member countries.

Across the EU, some question Polish ambitions regarding the Energy Union. Warsaw is suspected by some countries of pushing forward its own political agenda, disguised as EU policy, a source who asked not to be named told EURACTIV.

Poland is also suspected to seek EU funding up to 100% for energy projects such as LNG terminals, something for which the Union has no budget.

Asked to comment on the project for an Energy Union, Samy Andoura, Senior Research Fellow at Jacques Delors’ institute ‘Notre Europe’ said that the main issue was that it should be built as a community project, and not as an intergovernmental one. This means that the decision-making for the proposed project should be entrusted to the Union’s institution, and not stay with the governments, he stressed. 

Andoura, who is Professor and Chairholder of the European Energy Policy Chair at the College of Europe in Bruges, said that what matters is to achieve a common energy policy, with sufficiently clear and ambitious objectives, with effective instruments and a governance that allows to integrate all actors and to make them advance in a coordinated way and in the same direction.

This, he adds, implies the recourse to the community method, dear to Jacques Delors.

“The Energy Union was proposed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as a political idea about the future of the EU, but which also concern issues of typical Polish nature. Today the real challenge for Mr. Tusk is to take the necessary height and distance to transform its position into a real European project in all its diversity”, he said.

Notre Europe will publish a report based on the ideas of Jacques Delors on the matter in November.

European heads of state have chosen the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk to become the next President of the European Council, from 1 December 2014.

Tusk hosted the 19th UN Climate Change Conference in 2013, amid serious questions over his own country's environmental performance. He even changed his minister for the Environment right in the middle of the conference, appointing Maciej Grabowski, an economist and exponent of shale gas extraction. Mr Grabowski announced in June that around 60 exploratory wells had been dug in Poland. According to the American energy minister, Poland sits on one third of Europe's shale gas reserves.

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