The EU energy union project, one of the key political priorities of the Juncker commission, officially kicked off on 6 February with the aim of laying the foundations for a new way of making energy policy in Europe.
The concept of an energy union was first proposed by European council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, in April 2014, as a response to Russian actions in Ukraine.
"The energy union cannot be a mere reformatting of what we already do, or a mere work programme for the next five years; it is a commitment to fundamental and lasting change" - Miguel Arias Cañete
Tusk viewed the energy union as a mechanism to reduce the Russian energy stranglehold over the EU by jointly negotiating energy contracts with Moscow and making full potential of indigenous fossil fuels, such as coal and shale gas.
This has now evolved into a more holistic strategy, aiming to achieve energy supplies that are secure, competitive but also sustainable. Under the plan envisaged by energy union commissioner Maroš Sefčovič, reducing energy imports will be of equal importance to moderating energy demand or investing in clean technologies.
Sefčovič is proposing five main "mutually reinforcing and closely interrelated" dimensions: ensuring security of supply; completing the internal energy market; reducing European energy demand; decarbonising the energy mix; and promoting research and innovation in clean technologies.
Specific actions are proposed under these five pillars. The strategy furthermore foresees the restructuring of the EU energy governance process, in line with the 2030 climate and energy framework.
Probably the most contentious and politically sensitive aspect of the new plans, the energy governance overhaul, has divided policymakers on where to draw the line between EU and member state competence.
"In the field of energy we have more to win with a European approach than with 28 national approaches" - Maroš Sefčovič
The European commission is pledging to examine the need for any legislative proposals on the issue at a later date. In the same vein, the decision for the establishment of a mechanism for common gas purchasing is also on ice, with the EU executive currently assessing options for voluntary aggregation demand.
The energy union strategy will be adopted and presented by the commission on 25 February. The communication will be accompanied by the "Road to Paris" communication spelling out the EU's intended climate contribution as well as a communication reporting on progress towards the minimum electricity interconnection target of 10 per cent. The strategy will then be discussed by EU leaders at the European council of 19 and 20 March.
Five pillars of the energy union
The energy union will be based on five closely linked 'dimensions', each including a series of actions:
- Energy security, solidarity and trust: Actions foreseen under this pillar include the revision of the gas and electricity supply rules, a new EU liquefied natural gas strategy, accelerating progress on a Mediterranean gas hub, and developing relations with Algeria and Turkey. The commission is also looking at making intergovernmental energy agreements more transparent.
- Completing the internal energy market: Proposals for a new European market design and for the improvement of the energy regulatory framework will be brought forward. Accelerating interconnections to end energy isolation is also a priority.
- Moderation of energy demand: New legislation to meet the 2030 energy efficiency target based on the revision of the energy efficiency and performance of buildings directives will be proposed. The commission will also develop a 'smart financing for smart buildings' initiative.
- Decarbonisation of the economy: The commission will propose legislation to achieve the 2030 renewables and greenhouse gas reduction targets and speed up the decarbonisation and electrification of the transport sector. The objective is to make Europe number one in renewables.
- An energy union for research and innovation: The commission will propose an upgraded strategic energy technology plan, introduce measures on energy storage and develop "a forward-looking, energy and climate-related R&I strategy".
This content is supplied by Dods EU Monitoring. Want to know more? Click here for a free trial.