Sunday

26th Jan 2020

EU states enter bidding contest for new energy body

  • The plan to set up the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) was given the green light in April 2009. (Photo: www.nord-stream.com)

Sweden is set to inherit the thorny problem of where to place a number of newly-born European agencies when it takes over the EU presidency on 1 July.

Earlier this week, three EU states - Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - indicated their interest in hosting the new energy body, proof that the dossier is gaining in political influence. All three bidders expect the contest to be "quite tough."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

"It is mainly a matter of prestige," says Piotr Kaczynski from the Brussels-based Centre for European policy studies. He points out that a host does not have a "privileged influence" over how an agency functions.

His colleague and energy regulation expert, Christian Egenhofer, also predicts "fierce competition" as European agencies generally tend to expand, create other business opportunities as well as exposure for a country.

The idea to set up the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) was given the green light in April 2009 - together with rules to further liberalise the union's gas and electricity market.

The year and a half long process saw heated debate over whether to break energy giants into production and supply wings as well as wrangling - although less visible - over the ACER's future powers.

Several EU capitals were quick to make sure that the agency - foreseen to receive up to seven million euro from EU coffers each year and employ some 40 to 50 people - would not curtail the powers of national regulators.

In the end, the agency secured legally binding powers over disputes involving cross-border pipelines and networks, should national operators fail to agree on a solution.

As the energy market further integrates and member states become more confident working under its umbrella, the agency is likely to expand its competencies and cover more topics, Mr Egenhofer predicts.

Greece and Cyprus briefly flirted with the idea of hosting the agency, but the contest has finally narrowed down to three capitals - Bucharest, Bratislava and Ljubljana.

It is difficult to pin down major differences in the official pamphlets as all candidates underline their belief in a single European energy market, their expertise in the sector, their ideal geographical position or the high quality of life in their cities.

Romania is presenting itself as "an important actor of the regional energy market in South-Eastern Europe" involved in developing key European energy projects.

Slovenia also stresses that it stands "at the cross-roads of the EU energy market" due to the country's connection to southern Europe.

Slovakia, for its part, has highlighted that its capital is well connected to other European cities such as Vienna, Prague, Warsaw or Maribor.

Both Bratislava and Ljubljana also underline their Schengen - the EU's borderless zone - and eurozone membership.

Trade-offs?

The agency's future seat will be first discussed on 12 June when EU ministers in charge of energy meet in Luxembourg. The Czech EU presidency aims to see whether any of the three bidders is capable of securing convincing support among their colleagues.

However, the issue is likely to fall on the shoulders of the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, with diplomats suggesting Sweden could aim for a package deal involving the ACER as well as the EU's satellite navigation programme, Galileo, and the EU office to coordinate asylum issues.

Such an approach could allow candidates to barter their way to success as the process is traditionally accompanied by fierce national lobbying and trade-offs.

While Romania has never applied for an agency seat, Slovenia is now also bidding for the Galileo project. In the past, Ljubljana failed to get Frontex, the agency responsible for security of the union's external borders, as well as the European Institute for Gender Equality.

Similarly, Slovakia is trying its luck for the third time, after losing the gender equality institute to Vilnius and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology to Budapest.

Growing influence

According to Mr Kaczynski, energy is now one of the EU's top five priorities and more EU governments are likely to stand in line to get an energy portfolio in the next European Commission.

"In principle, there is massive understanding that we are interdependent and energy is the topic that must be dealt with jointly," he says, describing the energy portfolio as "crucial."

Of the three bidders for the ACER's seat, Bratislava is also interested in having a Slovak be the energy commissioner.

Magazine

History of the agencies (re)shuffle

The history of how EU agency seats were established shows that political deal-making, not logic or objective criteria, is the decisive factor.

Energy treaty 'undermines success of Green Deal'

Over 250 civil society organisations and trade unions say that the Energy Charter Treaty is incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreement and the new Green Deal - becoming an obstacle to the clean-energy transition.

Sinkevičius pledges to 'listen' to climate protests

Lithuania's commissioner-designate, Virginijus Sinkevičius, unveiled during his three-hour hearing on Thursday a package of proposals to protect the environment - from the bottom of the oceans to the top of the sky.

Analysis

The controversy behind the Energy Charter Treaty reforms

Experts from several organisations say that reform of the Energy Charter Treaty, proposed by the EU Commission, will make it difficult to meet the targets agreed in the Paris Agreement - making it an obstacle to the clean-energy transition.

Analysis

EU purchase of US gas serves dual purpose

The EU wants to diversify the sources where it gets its natural gas from - while importing more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US could also slightly appease Donald Trump.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan premier refuses to step down, despite ruling
  2. UK set to support new fossil fuel projects in Africa
  3. Leftists MEPs travel to visit jailed Catalan MEP
  4. Bulgaria may expel Russian diplomats over 'espionage'
  5. EU, China, others agree on WTO body to settle disputes
  6. EU Commission makes move against Poland on judges law
  7. Soros pledges $1bn for liberal universities
  8. Merkel: Germany unprepared for 2015 refugee crisis

Planned German coal exit boosts case for Nord Stream 2

German commission recommends phasing out coal power over the next 19 years - which will provide additional arguments to build the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which both the European Commission and the US have reservations about.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. AI must have human oversight, MEPs recommend
  2. Second-hand cars flaw in EU Green Deal
  3. Why do EU arms end up in Libya despite UN ban?
  4. Brexit deal to be signed, as sides poised for tough talks
  5. Timmermans urges EU governments to tax carbon
  6. Vietnam sent champagne to MEPs ahead of trade vote
  7. China spy suspect had EU permission to work as lobbyist
  8. EU to unveil 5G 'toolbox' to tackle security threats

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us