Thursday

17th Oct 2019

Russia and single market loom large in EU energy plan

The European Commission's new energy plan targets security, sustainability and competitiveness but lacks legal proposals and target dates, with Brussels appealing to the goodwill of member states.

President Jose Manuel Barroso unveiled the energy discussion paper in Brussels on Wednesday (8 March) ahead of the EU leaders' energy-dominated summit in two weeks time.

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The commission proposes strengthening relations with Russia, developing non-oil and gas power such as nuclear or wind energy and accelerating steps toward a single European energy market.

The three-pronged approach was described as a "Kyoto-Lisbon-Moscow triangle" by the commission chief.

It includes 30 potential measures such as: a new forum for coordinating commission and member states' foreign policy; a "solidarity mechanism" in case of supply shocks; an EU-level energy merger regulator; an EU-level energy trend monitoring office and new electricity grid connections.

The paper does not offer ideas on the legal instruments that would have to be created to underpin a common energy policy or give a headline target date for launching the policy, however.

"We are lacking in such instruments for now," Mr Barroso said. "It's true that we don’t have a constitution, the draft constitution did give more community competency in the area of energy."

It will be up to member states to answer the question "Do they want a clear objective, a clear time frame?" he added.

Was Hampton Court just hot air?

Member states expressed unanimous support for an EU-level approach to energy at a summit in Hampton Court, UK, late last year, with January's Russia-Ukraine gas crisis galvanising wills, Mr Barroso said.

"It is true that previous commissioners have tried to make reforms in this area and that reservations emerged at national level, but I see a fundamental change now," he said.

"I think now we have the political conditions we did not have before to make progress."

The president acknowledged member states’ strong sense of sovereignty on energy issues by underlining that "we will not interfere in any country's right to choose its own energy mix."

However, he went on to say that French and Spanish attempts to fence off national energy giants from foreign takeovers "contradict" the common energy policy project.

He brushed off the recent merger disputes as the "birth pains of the single market" while stressing that if Europe can create multinational defence companies, energy consolidation should not be a problem.

The Moscow axis

Mr Barroso intends to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow in the run up to the energy summit to deliver the message that Europe is a "very important customer" for Russia.

The talks will pave the way for a new energy treaty with Russia in 2007, the green paper suggests.

The discussion paper also testifies to the importance of South Caucasus in EU energy terms, calling for gas and oil pipelines "facilitating Caspian supplies to the EU through Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria."

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