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13th Jul 2020

Energy union talks show signs of divisions to come

  • Latvian energy minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola, between EU energy commissioners Sefcovic (l) and Canete (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

The EU's energy union proposals were given a preliminary thumbs-up by ministers on Thursday (5 March) but there were already signs of disagreement to come.

Unveiled by the European Commission last week, the paper suggests ways to achieve energy independence for the bloc as well as how member states should contribute to reaching the EU’s green goals.

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"I think there has been full support for the proposal of the commission at this stage", said climate change commissioner Miguel Arias Canete after the ministerial meeting.

But he admitted that: “When we come to pieces of legislation, things might be a little bit difficult."

And in a sign that things will get more complicated when it comes down to legislative proposals, Austrian energy minister Reinhold Mitterlehner said: “Everyone interprets the Energy Union paper in his own way.”

Mitterlehner also noted that Vienna raised the thorny issue of nuclear energy, a no-go topic in Austria itself, but supported in other countries.

“We want a clarification that it is not about [promoting] nuclear energy. As far as I know some states are arguing the opposite, that they want it to be included in the strategy more explicitly”, he said.

Germany, which is phasing out nuclear energy, on Thursday also made sharp remarks on the issue.

“There are now countries in the EU who want to support nuclear energy with state money, with tax money. We consider that as absolutely out of the question”, said energy minister Sigmar Gabriel, adding that nuclear energy is “expensive” and “dangerous”.

Meanwhile, Greece expressed opposition to the proposal to share information with Brussels when negotiating a gas contract with a non-EU country. Energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said he feared “bureaucratic constraints”.

The minister said that he is worried the EU's energy plans may increase inequality and benefit “big business”, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting.

Different member states also chose to emphasise different parts of the proposals.

“We heard different levels of emphasis on the dimensions of the Energy Union. Many colleagues have stressed the importance on a fully functioning energy market, while the others really underlined the primary importance of the greater energy security”, said Latvian energy minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola.

And even before the paper was published it ran into opposition.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said the energy union is something that “hinders national sovereignty” – a point raised by some member states in the room on Thursday too.

Specific legislative proposals are due in the coming years, with a draft law giving the European Commission a bigger say in a country's gas contract negotiations expected by 2016.

Brussels wants stronger role in gas deals

The European Commission wants to be more closely involved when its member states negotiate energy contracts, under plans for an energy union unveiled Wednesday.

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Rising risks from beyond our borders and challenges from within can be tackled in a comprehensive approach to the EU's energy needs.

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