Energy Green Paper : Six Priorities For The Eu's Future Energy Policy
A coherent external policy, a more diversified energy mix, solidarity in the event of supply crises, sustainable development and climate policy, innovation and technology, competitiveness and the internal energy market are the six priorities for the EU's future energy policy. They are set out in detail in the much-touted EU Green Paper on "Secure, Competitive and Sustainable Energy for Europe" published on 8 March. Centred on the three pillars of European energy policy (security of supply, competitiveness and protection of the environment), European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs' department has put together a list of suggestions on how to tackle existing and future energy challenges on a European level.
Undoubtedly the biggest surprise in the Green Paper is the recognition of the external policy as an instrument of the energy policy. Although the Commission has been tentatively exploring this avenue by means of its Energy Dialogue with Russia and more recently with OPEC, it is the first time that it has actually been set down in black and white. The document suggests that each spring European Council engage in a "Strategic EU Energy Review" to enable the EU countries to speak with "the same voice" on energy mattersand with the political backing from the highest level.
The external dimension would make it possible to respond to matters affecting European energy policy in the following areas: reducing dependence on imported energy, particularly oil and gas; diversifying natural gas supply, energy partnerships with producer and transit countries. These subjects will be included in the summary of the first Communication on European energy policy to be presented to EU leaders at next year's spring European Council, and will then be updated on an annual basis. Another option for the future is setting a ceiling for fuel imports with the intention of reducing dependence on external sources. A target, for example 60% by 2030, may be proposed to EU member state governments in 2007.
SECURITY OF SUPPLY AND NUCLEAR OPTION
The annual Communication would also be expected to look at all the advantages and disadvantages of the different energy sources, including nuclear energy. The Green Paper suggests a "transparent and objective" debate on the future of role of nuclear energy in the EU, for those member states which choose to follow this path. The discussions will mean that the real costs, the advantages and disadvantages nuclear-generated electricity in order to subsequently hold a "well-informed" debate on the subject.
Another innovation in the Green Paper is reacting effectively to crisis situations. Mechanisms for responding to energy supply crises already exist but the latest power, oil and gas supply crises showed that they were not enough. The three Directives on the security of supply (oil, gas, electricity) need to be reviewed and the guidelines on gas stocks should be made binding.
A European Energy Supply Observatory is in the process of being set up in the European Commission's Directorate-General for Transport and Energy (DG TREN). The Commission and transmission system operators are also working on establishing a European Centre for Energy Networks, with a view to improving network security by means of the exchange of information between network managers. The physical security of energy infrastructure will also acquire official recognition, although DG TREN has been working on this project for several years now.
As for climate policy, the programme has already been decided: an Action Plan on Energy Efficiency is in the pipeline. This could nevertheless be extended to international level under the G8 and could lead to an international agreement on energy efficiency. In terms of renewable sources of energy, the Commission believes that it is necessary to draw up a road map which takes into account all the options currently being looked at: biofuels, biomass, offshore oil, "green" heating and cooling. The big question is whether a new post-2010 objective needs to be set? Carbon capture and storage will take pride of stage in the Green Paper and will be promoted as one of the EU's main priorities in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.
The Green Paper also proposes to promote technological innovation by means of the "strategic European energy technology plan". This plan will include a section devoted to R&D, which will focus on "promising" technologies such as advanced gas, cleaner coal, advanced nuclear, hydrogen production and carbon capture. The other area to be covered by this plan will be marketing of these technologies with the support of technological platforms (i.e. for biofuels, hydrogen, photovoltaic, clean coal and nuclear waste). And lastly, the electricity and gas internal markets are priorities for the Commission which intends to act in five core areas: a "European grid", a priority interconnection plan, investment in generation capacity, a level playing field (unbundling) and ensuring the competitiveness of Europe's industry (see separate article).
Reactions have been coming in thick and fast, broadly welcoming the launch of a debate on energy at EU level. All, apart from European industry, represented by UNICE, nevertheless lament shortcomings in the Green Paper; environmental NGOs feel there is still too great an emphasis on fossil fuels (through carbon capture and storage for example) and nuclear power, whilst trade unions regret that not enough consideration has been given to the social dimension.
Even American economist Jeremy Rifkin has responded, outlining his own challenge: the debate should focus on how to launch a the hydrogen economy, the third industrial revolution to be achieved by 2030, representing nothing less than "the next critical stage in European integration following the introduction of the euro".
Publication of the Green Paper fires the starting gun for a far-reaching debate that EU Energy Ministers will pick up on 14 March at an extraordinary Council meeting in Brussels. Talks at this session will serve as a basis for a debate between EU leaders at their traditional spring European Council on 23 -24 March. Indeed, the Green Paper proposes including energy on the spring summit's agenda each year through a strategic review of energy in the EU.