Šefčovič meets ITRE/ENVI approval

Ahead of the vote by the plenary on October 22, Maroš Šefčovič faced the MEPs of the ITRE and ENVI committees

By Dods EU monitoring

21 Oct 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

On October 20, the European Parliament’s Committees on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) held a confirmation hearing of Maroš Šefčovič, nominated for the Vice President on Energy Union position, in a reshuffle following the rejection of the Slovenian candidate, Alenka Bratušek. The Slovakian nominee was originally nominated for the Transport portfolio. Mr Šefčovič is the current Commission Vice-President for inter-institutional relations and administration and is affiliated with the S&D group. He had a smooth hearing with MEPs, who in their majority welcomed his in-depth knowledge of the portfolio. More information on the hearing is available below.

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Jerzy Buzek (EPP, PL), Chair of the ITRE Committee, opened the hearing by welcoming the Vice-President (VP) designate, hoping that this would be the last hearing. He referred to the hearing of Maroš Šefčovič for his nomination for the transport portfolio, where the MEPs had decided that the VP designate could be a member of the new College. Therefore, that day’s hearing would focus on whether Mr Šefčovič is suitable for the position of the VP designate on Energy Union. He referred to the issues that would be high on the agenda of the 8th legislative period, in particular, those that matter to the ITRE Committee, such as energy security, industrial competitiveness and energy infrastructure.

Giovanni La Via (EPP, IT), Chair of the ENVI Committee, welcomed the VP designate for Energy Union and gave a short presentation on his background. He added that the role of the VP would be to coordinate EU actions in the run up to achieving an energy resilient union and adopting a forward-looking climate policy, while representing the European Union when negotiating with third partners ahead of the COP 15 in Paris. The VP would also be responsible for green growth, he said, and added that to achieve this objective, it would be necessary to reform the ETS and the EU carbon market.

Jerzy Buzek (EPP, PL) explained the structure of the hearing, adding that there would be no questions by the EFDD group this time.

Opening remarks

Maroš Šefčovič, Commissioner on inter-institutional relations and Vice-President designate for Energy Union, opened his remarks by saying that in 2010 Jerzy Buzek had stated that “we need to radically change the way we produce and consume energy and adopt a more robust, shared energy policy”. He quoted the Commission President-elect Jean Claude Juncker as saying that the EU needs a resilient Energy Union. In his mission letter, it was stated explicitly that his role would be to carry out and coordinate policy to bring about this vision. He acknowledged that energy and climate policies have climbed to the top of Europe’s political agenda. Europe has immediate energy challenges to tackle: these include securing energy supplies and combatting climate change, with the view to adopting an ambitious position in the run up to COP 15 in Paris next year.

As in his first hearing, he repeated that the EU is now in a position to feel the benefits of the ending of divisions still in place since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The strategy links between us are now strong, he said. Infrastructure, which was initially developed for economic reasons, now is seen among these strategic priorities and he pledged to deal with this with the highest responsibility.

He referred to 2009, when Slovakia was plunged into darkness after Russia cut off gas coming through Ukraine. Energy was provided only to households and hospitals while the economy was at a complete standstill for two weeks. Without immediate European assistance, the consequences would have been horrible. “It is our solemn duty to make sure our citizens do not face such a situation again”, he said, adding that “recent gas stress tests show that we are much better prepared than before”. He therefore pledged to adopt a hard stance vis-à-vis Russian actions. “Russia is increasingly using gas supply as an instrument of pressure and as a political weapon against Ukraine and other countries who want to help her. This is totally unacceptable”, he stated. Negative impacts of gas disruption can be mitigated if EU countries can work together. The time for an EU Energy Union has really come, he said.

He would like to build this Energy Union based on five pillars. First, he mentioned security, solidarity and trust. He regretted that the EU is the biggest energy customer in the world, but it is not in a position to push for fair prices and market conditions. He believed it was high time for more assertive energy diplomacy to be adopted, so as to unlock the potential of the EU’s influence and avoid market distortions due to agreement with third countries that do not respect the EU rules. He was also in favour of a debate leading to a consensus to grant the Commission the mandate to negotiate international agreements with third countries. Building up the Energy Union also means close cooperation with our neighbours, with the aim to better integrate the energy market, he said. In this respect, he emphasised the role of the Energy Community. Common purchasing of gas has also to be explored with respect to the completion and WTO rules. He also believed that a Member State would have to inform and consult its EU partners before changing its energy policy. Next, he referred to the need to diversify energy supplies, regarding both the routes and the energy suppliers. Work on the Southern Corridor must be advanced, he said, while the EU’s partnership with Norway would have to be further developed. In the South, the establishment of a Mediterranean gas hub is necessary. At the same time, cooperation in the energy sector with Algeria must be pursued. Moreover, the development of LNG terminals develops new potential for imports.

Secondly, he would pursue the completion of the internal market, which would represent a backbone of the EU Energy Union. This requires increasing cross-border flows, securing the affordability of energy prices for vulnerable consumers, ameliorating interconnectivity of Member States, as well as the integration of renewables in the grid so that energy islands are unlocked. The structural funds, the Connecting Europe Facility and the €300 billion investment package announced by Juncker can contribute to the financing of the infrastructure projects needed to this end.

His third pillar focused on moderating energy demand. He supported the concept of energy efficiency as a first energy source and said that it should be enhanced significantly beyond 2020. This is crucial to securing industrial competitiveness, he said. He added that he fully supported Juncker’s plans in this field and agreed that improving the energy efficiency of buildings, transport and products should be prioritised.

The fourth pillar related to the decarbonisation of the EU energy mix. The objective is to make the EU number 1 in renewables and to continue with ambitious targets for 2030. In 2012, the EU installed about 44% of the world’s renewable electricity and now has a leadership position in green technologies. Member States would still be responsible for deciding on their own energy mix, but an international agreement on COP 15 requires ambition by all Member States. The EU has long been the driving force in the UN climate negotiations and it should remain a leader in the field.

His fifth pillar would be based on research and innovation. The EU needs to step up its efforts to bring new low carbon energy technologies to the market, he said. These are vital to achieve its 2020 objectives on climate, social and environmental policies and beyond.

He concluded that an integrated approach based on these pillars would enable the EU to harvest both the environmental and economic benefits to tap into the job potential of green growth. He would do his best to win the support for the new portfolio, although he did not become an energy expert in one week. The vision of the EU Energy Union has to become a reality and he was ready to work with the European Parliament to this end.

Q&A from MEPs

Krišjānis Kariņš (EPP, LV) acknowledged that Šefčovic had only five days to prepare for this hearing. His question related to the need to secure supplies for the EU and remove dependency on third partners, in particular the dependency on Russia for gas. In this respect, he wished to know whether the VP designate would support the South Stream project and how he believed dependency on Russia could be decreased.

Šefčovic replied that the South Stream has been suspended for not respecting the EU rules. Commitment to the latter needs to be clarified before a project could be given the go-ahead. He added that the project also needs to answer how it would help Europe’s energy situation and diversify energy supply; he did not see how South Stream was fulfilling those criteria. The EU should in the future lend its political and financial support to the Southern Corridor instead.

Kathleen Van Brempt (S&D, BE) argued that the five pillars presented by the VP designate cover the majority of what would constitute the Energy Union. She would like to hear more on the priorities and concrete measures for the year ahead.

Šefčovic hoped that the trilateral talks between the EU, Ukraine and Russia, scheduled for October 21, would result in an agreement for the winter to come, but also for the following one. Putting this immediate priority aside, the best approach would be to advance on all the five pillars together. He hoped that the European Summit of October 23 would adopt an ambitious climate package for 2030 and he pledged to work on this at the General Affairs Council ahead of the Summit. By spring 2015, the aim would be to have a negotiating position for Paris, to continue with the public procurement selection for PCIs and to proceed with the completion of the Internal Energy Market. The latter should have been completed by 2014; however, this will not happen, therefore the European Commission has to open infringement procedures.

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