Brussels to publish plans for closer EU energy union

Around 22% of the money mobilised by EFSI goes to energy-related projects. [Shutterstock]

Britain’s plans for closer power and gas links with continental Europe would get a boost under a new list of priority projects to be published next week, as part of a drive for a single European Union market for energy supplies.

The list of Projects of Common Interest, seen by Reuters, also includes infrastructure that could reduce the energy dependency of the Baltic States and southeastern Europe on leading supplier Gazprom, Russia’s state gas giant.

Brussels regulators have used the crisis with Russia over its seizure of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine to press ahead with plans for a single energy union, based on increased grid and pipeline connections between the 28 EU member states.

Britain is not directly affected by the Russian crisis as it is not dependent on its gas, but it is nervous about the adequacy of national supplies and the extra costs it might incur from emergency back up plans.

>>Read: Access to EU energy market vital for UK, says National Grid CEO

The list of priority projects ? entitled to accelerated planning permission and some EU money ? includes a first grid link between Belgium and Britain, being built by British power grid operator National Grid and Belgium’s Elia, as well as power and gas links between Ireland and Britain.

The European Commission’s aim is that nations should have at least three options for gas supplies, while costs would be lowered and supplies made more secure because available energy would be shared out more effectively.

The Commission, expected to publish the list next week, is also seeking to enforce a goal that each country should be able to get 10% of its power generation capacity through interconnection by 2020.

Britain, Ireland and Italy, as well as Spain and Portugal, are virtual energy islands, with connection capacities of just 3 to 5%, according to European Commission figures.

>>Read: Energy union aims for elusive 10% power grid interlinkage

Some projects have been removed from the list, which is updated intermittently, including connections between Switzerland, with which plans for closer links have faltered following a referendum in 2014 that narrowly backed limiting immigration from EU countries.

Free movement of people and jobs within its borders is one of the fundamental policies of the European Union, and Switzerland, while not a member of the bloc, had participated under a pact with Brussels.

Britain is set for its own referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017.

No-one from the Commission was immediately available for comment on the draft document, expected to be published as part of a state of the energy union address.

When he was Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, spearheaded the idea of an EU Energy Union. The idea has since been taken up by the European Commission which nominated a special Commissioner, Maroš Šef?ovi?, to steer the project.

Details of the proposal started to emerge on 4 February, when the College of Commissioners discussed the plan for the first time. The communication was published on 25 February, and includes an annex of “concrete proposals”, including legislation, decisions and analysis.

The Energy Union will cut across a number of policy sectors including energy, transport, research and innovation, foreign policy, regional and neighbourhood policy, trade and agriculture, according to the EU executive's plans.

>>Read: EURACTIV's full coverage on the Energy Union

  • Autumn 2015: Commission to proposed updated list of Projects of Common Interest (PCI)
  • By 2020: About 75% of PCIs are expected to be completed
  • 2020: Target date to meet the 10% electricity interconnection objective

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