Is the energy union up to Europe's challenges?

Written by Flavio Zanonato on 26 October 2016 in Opinion

If national prerogatives prevail, the energy union will fail to deal with the many constraints of today's European energy sector, warns Flavio Zanonato.

Flavio Zanonato | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Europe's energy sector is undergoing profound changes. The energy union aims to provide an adequate answer to these changes, completing and fostering the internal energy market.

We need to strengthen our legislation in order to meet the ambitious targets agreed in Paris; increase cross-border interconnections and pipelines; integrate decentralised, renewable generation into the markets; and create a fair, secure and transparent environment for consumers - especially the vulnerable - and the stakeholders.

This is certainly not an easy task, and we in Parliament are well placed to know this. It took many weeks of intense negotiations for the first draft of the energy union report to see the light of day, and since then, this has been the case with every element of the energy union package. 


We are now halfway to completing the energy union, with recent, encouraging outcomes in Parliament on the security of gas supplies and the LNG strategy, among other issues. 

The next, quite possibly bigger, challenge is the legislative proposal for a new energy market design, expected in early December. This will be the spine of the energy union's architecture and, in many ways, the mirror of its overall ambitions. 

If this proposal carries through full implementation of the third energy package, while launching the effective opening of the energy market to cross-border enterprises, it will then accomplish its highest duties. 

If, on the other hand, national prerogatives prevail and expensive market distortions are kept in place, then there will not be much that the energy union can do in order to cope with the many constraints and inefficacies of today's European energy sector. 

On another level, the energy union is also about securing our energy provisions and supplies and fostering internal cooperation.

In other words, we need to tighten and reinforce interconnections, grids, and storage solutions irrespective of national, physical borders within the EU, while at the same diversifying gas provisions from third countries so to avoid geopolitical dependencies from external parties (notably the Russian Federation). 

The recently adopted report on the security of gas supplies, authored by Jerzy Buzek, goes exactly in this direction, insofar as it entitles the European Commission to question the admissibility of a planned infrastructure when this seems to contravene to the dictates of energy diversification. 

It is no mystery, indeed, that the Nordstream 2 project connecting Russia to Germany may hinder the path towards a resilient and secure European energy sector.

It is not just unnecessary, but also detrimental for the credibility of the energy union as such. The EU should instead secure energy supplies, preserve political balances eastwards, and channel investments into reinforcing infrastructures in the internal market. 

From here we continue, unfolding the energy union mosaic, but with the incumbent threat of an unstable political perspective for the EU. 

What if, in fact, national leaders refrain from their commitments and restore to national receipts in order to contrast the populist threat? What if they step away from the ambitious goals of the energy union? It will be, then, for the European Union to set and keep these ambitions high.


About the author

Flavio Zanonato (IT) is Parliament's S&D group shadow rapporteur on the towards a European energy union


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