Monday

22nd Jan 2018

EU leaders give broad backing to common energy policy

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said he is "delighted" with the support EU leaders expressed on Thursday (23 March) for a common EU energy policy – but leaders also reaffirmed national sovereignty over energy matters.

Gathered in Brussels for the traditional Spring economic summit, member states gave broad backing to a landmark green paper on energy presented earlier this month by the European Commission.

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"I am very delighted that the council backs the call for a common energy policy," said Mr Barroso.

Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, confirmed EU leaders' general backing for the energy paper.

He said discussions had been "uncontroversial."

Member states agreed on the broad principles of a common energy policy, such as the opening of markets, the improvement of energy infrastructure, a common external energy policy and the promotion of renewable energy.

Mr Barroso and Mr Schussel also indicated that energy issues would figure prominently on EU leaders' agenda every year. A yearly review would generate a "clear system of monitoring," said the commission president.

The idea of a common external energy policy – for example in dealing with Russia – will already be taken up at the next European Council in June.

Sovereignty

However, the general consensus on the EU energy policy had already been agreed by member states' capitals in the run-up to the summit, with only a handful of controversial topics left for EU leaders.

Energy ministers earlier this month blocked the most controversial parts of the paper, which they feared encroached on member states sovereignty.

Mr Schussel reiterated the "general consensus that each country has the right to choose its energy mix," rebuffing a passage in the green paper suggesting more commission coordination in the kinds of energy member states use.

He also indicated that member states dislike the idea of an EU energy markets regulator, saying that "existing bodies could cooperate in a more effective way" to boost market efficiency.

Another controversial plan submitted by Poland for an energy "NATO pact" to ensure solidarity vis-a-vis external suppliers was also shot down at an earlier stage by member states energy ministers.

Polish prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said "Europe will return to this proposal one day. But we are not pushing the pact."

Protectionism and targets

Contrary to expectations, the talks on energy did not address the issue of "economic patriotism," Mr Schussel indicated.

The issue had been expected to dominate discussion on energy following recent attempts by France and Spain to thwart the takeover of national energy firms by companies from Italy and Germany respectively.

But the protectionism debate "did not come up," said Mr Schussel.

EU leaders will on Friday continue their discussions on the exact wording of summit conclusions on energy.

Ireland and the UK are against the mentioning of concrete targets for the percentage of renewables in Europe’s energy provision, Mr Schussel hinted.

"Some member states, especially the islands, are very sceptical on these targets," according to Mr Schussel.

But he added that consensus on targets for energy efficiency was uncontroversial.

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