The EU faces up to its energy challenge
A reliable, sustainable and affordable energy supply with guaranteed sources and contributing to European competitiveness – this is still a priority for Europe.
At the recent European Council meeting in Brussels on 4 February, the heads of state and government discussed ways in which the EU could face up to its currently challenging situation on energy supplies. According to Article 194 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the fundamental objectives of energy policy are from now on incorporated into the Union’s political domain, “in a spirit of solidarity between Member States.”
The task of creating energy policy on a Europe-wide scale is not easy, given the degree of our dependence (54.8% in 2008, according to Eurostat) on gas and oil supplies coming from a number of external countries dominated by oligopolies, by comparison with our scarce internal energy sources. Nor is it easy to insist on the requirements of public needs in the face of so many private companies operating globally, all with their own networks and strategies. In the common fight against climate change, the public actors are gambling on a range of taxation measures. Whatever happens, for them it is vital to raise large amounts of capital in order to make huge investments where profitability will only be seen in the long term.
Recently, the Commission compiled these common objectives of all the actors into the following expression: “ensuring the uninterrupted physical availability of energy products and services on the market, at a price which is affordable for all consumers (private and industrial), while contributing to the EU’s wider social and climate goals.”
Details of the measures proposed by the Commission for achieving this result are to be found in a new Commission document : Energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and beyond - A Blueprint for an integrated European energy network The organisations targeted by this document are those responsible for incorporating its measures into their parliamentary working programmes, using it to enrich regional policies and also the newly emerging policies (full of promise and close to the hearts of ordinary people) around the theme of “the intelligent city”, and also for monitoring the quality of social changes that are inevitable as the pace of change quickens.
“Can do better” says the Commission
As everybody knows, the EU is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, to raising the share of energy from renewable sources to 20% of its future spectrum of energy supplies, and to improving its energy efficiency by 20%. As things stand at present, the Commission has discovered that the quality of the national energy efficiency action plans drawn up by the Member States since 2008 is “disappointing, leaving vast potential untapped.” Research into energy efficiency is lagging behind and, just about everywhere, a great many outdated installations are still functioning. The buildings and transport sector, a voracious energy consumer and major source of greenhouse gas emissions, still relies far too heavily on fossil fuels, where oil prices are seemingly set to go up and up in a permanent spiral. That is why alternative fuels should be getting more and more wind in their sails. Using them would reduce environmental impacts and ensure the security of energy supplies.
On an international scale, Europe really has not managed to reach the level of importance to which it aspires. Despite its crises of gas supplies in winter, Europe still has not developed a common approach to the countries that supply or provide transit facilities for gas. The Nabucco Project, designed to free up the Russian grip on deliveries of gas from the Caspian fields, is still a non-starter. There is also justifiable concern at seeing how far public attention has wandered from the increasing scarcity of oil reserves. However, this slow depletion will inevitably entail soaring prices and a warlike atmosphere between countries where this black gold is harvested and transported safe and sound to its destination. We have just observed this phenomenon yet again with Egypt in turmoil but … it still owns the Suez Canal!
Henri Madelin SJ
translated from the original French