Energy union attacked for continued reliance on gas supplies

Written by Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 2 March 2015 in News
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One of team Juncker's flagship policy strategies, plans for energy union were unveiled last week.

In its official communication, the commission explains, "our vision is of an energy union where member states see that they depend on each other to deliver secure energy to their citizens, based on true solidarity and trust".

"Our vision is of an integrated continent-wide energy system where energy flows freely across borders, based on competition and the best possible use of resources, and with effective regulation of energy markets at EU level where necessary", the document adds.

More importantly, one of the central aims of the energy union is to promote more effective EU-wide climate change policy and "secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy". This is especially significant ahead of the UN Paris climate summit that will take place next December.

Late last year, the commission set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030, and increasing energy efficiency and renewables by at least 27 per cent. 

Yet the energy efficiency target is not binding at national or EU level, and the renewables target is only binding at EU level. It is unclear how this will play into the new energy union plans, but the commission seems to have ignored any criticisms, referring to these targets in its communication as "ambitious".

Moreover, "producing oil and gas from unconventional sources in Europe such as shale gas is an option, provided that issues of public acceptance and environmental impact are adequately addressed".

The commission's apparent commitment to "public acceptance" is interesting, as it was previously reported that during the course of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations, the EU planned to make provisions to import US gas and oil acquired through fracking.

"When the conditions are right, the EU will consider reframing the energy relationship with Russia"

There are also plans to "explore the full potential of liquefied natural gas, including as a back-up in crisis situations when insufficient gas is coming into Europe through the existing pipeline system".

The commission also stresses, "to reach our goal, we have to move away from an economy driven by fossil fuels".

Additionally, the energy union is meant to serve as a political tool, with the Brussels executive hoping to diversify its gas and energy suppliers in order to reduce Russian president Vladimir Putin's negotiating power in times of conflict.

According to the document, "when the conditions are right, the EU will consider reframing the energy relationship with Russia". Unfortunately, team Juncker fails to specify what the "right" conditions are, nor what "reframing" the relationship would actually consist of.

The communication warns, "to ensure the diversification in gas supplies, work on the southern gas corridor must be intensified to enable central Asian countries to export their gas to Europe. In northern Europe, the establishment of liquid gas hubs with multiple suppliers is greatly enhancing supply security. This example should be followed in central and eastern Europe, and in the Mediterranean area, where a Mediterranean gas hub is in the making".

This may seem like an ideal solution considering the situation in Ukraine seems unlikely to reach a peaceful conclusion any time soon. But the countries the commission plans to work with are hardly dream allies. 

These include Azerbaijan, which human rights watch has condemned for its "poor record on freedom of expression" and "arrests and intimidation of opposition political activists" and Turkmenistan, which the organisation called "one of the world's most repressive countries".

Unsurprisingly, last week's announcement was met with a lukewarm response on the part of environmental organisations, with Juncker's team accused of contradicting itself.

Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser Tara Connolly said, "the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing with this plan. The commission says the EU should move away from fossil fuels but it also wants to chase after new gas supplies and doesn't rule out coal".

Brook Riley, climate justice and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe added, "we keep hearing repetitions of gas, gas, gas. But at the same time Europe has promised to cut emissions by up to 95 per cent by 2050 - it is saying one thing and doing another".

And Roland Joebstl, European environmental bureau policy officer on energy and climate change, commented, "tackling climate change and the issue of energy security means that the 2030 targets and related policies must be revised upwards instead of spending political capital on looking for more fossil fuel suppliers".

But not everyone was as critical of the energy union proposals, with representatives from the climate action network saying, "the commission's move today will kick off a wave of pledges from countries over the course of the year - all of which will add up to the first collective signal that the world is moving out of fossil fuels and embracing the renewable energy era".

MEPs were equally divided over the announcements.

Brussels' energy union strategy is due to be discussed at this week's council meeting.

 

About the author

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist and editorial assistant for the Parliament Magazine

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