Energy union is on the right track: It's time to deliver

A major challenge lies ahead in achieving the right level of ambition and coordinating the political debate and legislative process of the winter package, writes Morten Helveg Petersen.

Morten Helveg Petersen | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Morten Helveg Petersen

Morten Helveg Petersen (RE, DK) is a vice-chair of Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee

22 Mar 2017

Today, the EU imports huge volumes of Russian gas and oil via various routes, at a cost of approximately €400bn per year. This threatens our energy security, is a huge obstacle for fighting climate change, and rarely delivers good value for European consumers. We need to change this, and in fact are doing so right now in Brussels.

Shortly before Christmas, the Commission presented the latest elements of delivering the European energy union, the so-called 'winter package', which, if we get it right, will be the foundation for years to come of a completed and fundamentally evolved single energy market in Europe. 

It will make Europe self-sufficient, independent of fossil fuels, ensure innovation as well as major transition to renewable energy, increased energy efficiency in our homes and industries, and build an energy system which no longer exacerbates climate change.


The Commission's proposals are ambitious. There is no doubt that we are going in the right direction, but the proposals could have gone much further. It is now down to us in Parliament to make the case for a more optimistic, more radical and fundamentally more ambitious transition.

I speak from a Danish perspective, where we have been working on similar policy priorities since the 1970s. We didn't make these changes because we could foresee climate change, we did it because we decided we did not want to depend on unstable suppliers for our basic energy needs. 

As a result, Denmark has an innovative industry, which has worked diligently towards delivering a cost effective transition to an economy largely based on renewables, coupled with a highly energy efficient building stock. 

Our energy intensive industries ensure that their industrial production processes harness waste heat and turn it into a common good, offering cheap heating to local communities, instead of literally throwing this valuable resource out the window.

Equally, smart urban planning ensures that we take into consideration obvious synergies between different elements of the economy. In doing so, Danish businesses are now market leaders and innovators in many areas - from offshore wind, to heat pumps and super-efficient district heating systems. 

This innovative approach, which is cost effective and inherently green, has benefitted Danish society and I believe that the energy union can offer the same benefits to the whole of Europe, as a driver not only for greener energy but also for sustainable employment in the many industries that are incorporated in this holistic approach.

As a Vice-Chair of Parliament's industry, research and energy committee, rapporteur for the revision of the European agency for the cooperation of energy regulators (ACER) regulation, and shadow rapporteur on the revision of the energy performance of buildings directive, I share the responsibility, along with other MEP colleagues, to ensure that the winter package delivers in terms of ambition and effectiveness.

For me the crucial aspect in all this is that we take into account the importance of looking at energy systems in their entirety. The most efficient and cost effective energy solutions are the ones that take a holistic approach, harnessing all opportunities and finding synergies between different technologies.

When the winter package was presented, I said that we faced a unique opportunity to become part of Europe's modern history if - I stressed 'if' - we were up to the task.

We all have to coordinate, be willing to harness synergies and incorporate a systematic approach strategically across the various legislative dossiers of the winter package to achieve the best results, overcoming the false and tired dichotomy between supporting European competiveness and delivering environmental and economic suitability. If we are smart, we can deliver both simultaneously, in fact delivering the two together is in my view, the only way forward.

In the energy transition, at the risk of plagiarism, I don't think we're at the end. In fact we're not even at the beginning of the end. But with these proposals we might just be at the end of the beginning, of a transition to a better European energy system that delivers clean energy for all.

This could be a game changer that in every way chimes with our common objectives of building a future of solidarity, community, free trade and peace - on the foundation of the European Union that was created 60 years ago with the treaty of Rome.


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