New EU-US energy council to be set up early November
The EU and the US will set up a joint energy council at ministerial and commissioner level to streamline policy initiatives relating to green technologies, research and energy security on both sides of the Atlantic, a US official told this website.
"Energy is an important foreign policy priority for the US and a very important component of our bilateral relationship with the EU. We wanted to have a form of engagement with the Europeans to reflect that and to raise it to the policy level, to the cabinet level," the US official said in a phone interview, under condition of anonymity, as the final details of the plan are still being worked on.
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The body will most likely have its constitutive meeting on 4 November, one day after being formally announced by President Barack Obama and Jose Manuel Barroso during the EU-US summit due to take place in Washington.
From the EU commission side, the energy council is set to include the commissioner for energy, Andris Piebalgs, the commissioner for external relations, Benita Fererro-Waldner, and the commissioner for science and research, Janez Potocnik. The EU's top diplomat, Javier Solana, as well as Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and energy minister Maud Olofsson on behalf of the EU presidency will round up the European delegation.
The US side will be represented by secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the secretary for energy, who also has science and research in his portfolio, Steven Chu.
"It will be a mechanism enabling officials on both sides to meet and discuss ideas and issues and ways how to promote energy security, energy markets, the development and deployment of green technology, even the development of common policies and standards," the official explained.
The so-called transatlantic economic council (TEC), a looser body comprising various commissioners, depending on the agenda of the meeting, will be kept on. Set up in 2007 at the initiative of German chancellor Angela Merkel and with German industry commissioner Guenter Verheugen as chair, the TEC needs to be "re-energised", said Ms Fererro-Waldner during the plenary session in Strasbourg.
The next TEC meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday (27 October) in Washington, in preparation for the EU-US summit, with Ms Fererro-Waldner participating, as well as the chair of the EU-US delegation in the European Parliament, German Christian-Democrat MEP Elmar Brok, tipped to be Berlin's next commissioner.
The only way the EU-US energy council will avoid the fate of the TEC, which is seen as a mere discussion forum, will be to focus on "binding agreements" in research and the development of new sources of energy, German Liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the foreign affairs committee, told EUobserver.
"One could imagine common funding for energy research, so that you don't spend the taxpayer's money separately on each side of the Atlantic, but set out common research projects," he said.
Another sticking point is the lack of co-operation with Congress, where all regulation in the field of energy and research needs to be approved, Mr Lambsdorff pointed out.
For now, Congress will not be included in the works of the EU-US energy council, but if legislative projects come about, this could change, the US official said.
Possible frictions could emerge with another joint body – the US-Russia commission, co-chaired by the countries' respective foreign ministers, which includes a working group on energy co-operation.
Since the EU-US energy council deals with energy security and pipeline projects for instance in the Caspian and Caucasus region, where Russia also has an interest, the US official admitted that "there certainly may be issues addressed by both bodies, but that's not to say that Europe does not have its own bilateral discussions with Russia as well."