Energy and Innovation – afterthoughts at the summit table
Even though energy and innovation policy had been established long ago as core topics, it was for the European Council on 4 February the battle for the future of the Eurozone and reactions to events in Egypt which ended up monopolising the headlines. But that does not mean that the aforementioned issues are any less crucial when it comes to the future of Europe.
Herman van Rompuy practises clear thinking. What’s more, he is a man who sticks to his principles. On taking office over a year ago, he declared that the most important priority for Europe was the continued development of the growth model if it wanted to keep in step with other nations in terms of global competition; and to be able to keep on financing social security systems in the future in the light of demographic change. In order to make this a reality, new growth potential needs to be unleashed.
President Van Rompuy has held firmly to these goals ever since, even as the euro crisis raged around his ears and, more recently, events in the Arab world began to dominate the news. How else can one explain his long-harboured plan to tackle the dual issue of innovation and energy at the European Council meeting on 4 February? This topic not only plays a prominent part in realising the EU 2020 Strategy, but also takes up many column inches in the Strategy itself. The fact that these issues ended up as mere footnotes to the proceedings, pushed out of the limelight by the controversial proposal put forward by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy in favour of a competitiveness pact as well as by the unrest in Egypt, says much about the media of the modern age, but is hardly likely to steer the tenacious Belgian who leads the European heads of state and government away from his convictions.
In the conclusions of the last meeting of the European Council, it was announced that a single market for energy will be set up by 2014. To cite the text itself: “No EU Member State should remain isolated from the European gas and electricity networks after 2015 or see its energy security jeopardised by lack of the appropriate connections.” However, to achieve this goal, funding will be needed for some far-reaching infrastructure measures. Improving the transport networks for gas and electricity alone will cost an estimated 200 billion euros by 2020.
Moreover, work will need to be done to placate neighbouring countries should any inconveniences occur, such as those which tend to arise as a result of such large-scale projects and which are never entirely avoidable. When all is said and done, such measures do, after all, serve the purpose of using energy in a more efficient way. One of these large-scale projects involves the creation of a North-South route to transport electricity, gas and oil for EU states across central and Eastern Europe. A working group, made up of representatives from the countries in question, began its work under the auspices of the European Commission within days after the February summit of heads of state and government had taken place.
As for the other core summit theme – innovation and research – the European Council has called for “expertise and resources (to be) mobilised in a coherent manner” and for Member States to work towards monitoring progress in the field of innovation in a more effective fashion. According to the EU 2020 Strategy, total investment in research and development should be raised from 2% of GDP in 2009 to 3% of GDP by 2020.
It was also just a few days after the last summit that the European Commission presented a Green Paper with the objective of giving a new direction to the way the EU funds research and innovation projects. Linked to the Green Paper is a far-reaching public consultation involving representatives from the worlds of politics, industry and civil society on how to organise and prioritise European research policy. This consultation should lead towards a joint strategic framework designed to make the EU a key global player in research issues or at least in strengthening its existing position. In so doing, improving the EU’s competitive clout must be paramount if such major societal challenges as climate change, the rational use of limited resources, energy and food security, health and an ageing population are to be tackled with success.
The consultation on research and innovation, not forgetting energy security and energy efficiency, is of critical importance for obtaining a more qualitative level of growth and job security in Europe. This was the resounding message of the European Council on 4 February. We very much hope that all those in senior positions in Church and political circles who support Catholic social teaching will lend their constructive support to the discussion on how we can best achieve these goals. After all, the way Christian social ethics promotes the virtue of temperance and an appreciation of the human spirit in the service of the Divine plan of creation could be a very good starting position when it comes to formulating an independent and original contribution to these discussions.
translated from the original German