State of the Energy Union – the Starting Shot to the Year of Delivery

gas pipeline“We have successfully decoupled growth from emissions, but 2016 will be the Energy Union Year of Delivery”, was one of the key messages of Vice President Šefčovič in his presentation of the first ever State of the Energy Union.

From the volume and breadth of information published it is clear that the Commission means business and is going to ramp up efforts on Energy Union in the years ahead.  The associated documents published on the Commission’s website include a renewed list of Projects of Common interest and an Updated Roadmap for the Energy Union which shows a heavy agenda across the EU Institutions in the coming years.

Yesterday’s announcements and the associated documents suggest a pragmatic approach to Energy Union with a strong focus on promoting energy security and relations with third countries. While the Commission remains diplomatic in advocating a technologically neutral approach to energy policy, one cannot ignore the State of the Energy Union’s focus on nuclear as well as the number of gas related initiatives.

The publication of two nuclear specific documents, the Nuclear Safety Directive Implementation Report and the Assessment by Member State on Nuclear Safety, may be in response to the Hinkley Point controversy however, it seems the Commission is hoping to see the inclusion of nuclear in national plans, again as a means of diversifying supply and promoting energy security while reducing carbon emissions.

The Commission also specifically highlights the significance of recent discoveries of gas in the East Mediterranean and their potential to contribute to Europe’s energy security. The establishment of a Euro-Med gas platform is an important measure to step up cooperation in that area. Furthermore, in line with the Commission’s charm offensive to actors beyond EU borders, talks between the EU, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey on the Trans-Caspian pipeline have been relaunched.  Vice President Šefčovič stressed the pressing need to speed up work on infrastructure projects to ensure that the EU’s demand for gas will be satisfied in view of dwindling domestic resources. At least in the near future  gas will have to play a crucial role in decarbonising EU power generation.

The detailed focus of the 28 National factsheets shows the Commission’s commitment to Energy Union but also provide insights into the kinds of indicators that will be adopted in the review and governance of national plans.  This expected level of scrutiny combined with a consultation launch on the Renewable Energy Directive for the period after 2020 will be a call to action for Member States who are not on track to meet renewables targets for 2020.  In light of recent discussions around their inputs on intergovernmental energy agreements, the Commission’s use of words such as ‘scrutiny’ when dealing with Member States competencies may stick in the throats of the Council and the Parliament, but it seems their fight for a seat at the energy table is going to continue in earnest.

It was a day of mixed emotions for green NGO’s who reacted positively to the UKs announcement that coal would be phased out, but who are much less enthused by the focus on gas and nuclear in the State of the Energy Union.  NGO’s have dramatically elevated their activity and rhetoric against gas, not just unconventionals, in recent weeks.

However, this was just the start and with the renewables and energy efficiency package as well as the effort sharing decision expected in 2016, next year will indeed be the year of Energy Union.

Constantine Levoyannis is Senior Consultant and Bronagh O’Hagan is Consultant in FTI Consulting’s energy practice in Brussels.

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