National interests block a unified energy policy

Article published on April 10, 2006
community published
Article published on April 10, 2006

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The MEP Vincenzo Lavarra explains the importance of the recent EC Green Paper on energy

So what is Europe’s recipe for tackling the energy crisis? The Green Paper presented on the 8th May contains a European strategy for sustainable, competitive and secure energy.

The heart of this strategy is the liberalisation of the energy market in Europe, the coordination of foreign affairs with supplier countries, and a commitment to sustainable development.

The people of Europe are split over whether they want a Europe wide energy policy; in a recent survey, while 47% of people preferred that energy decisions were taken on a European level, 37% and 8% prefer energy decisions are taken on a national or local level respectively.

Vincenzo Lavarra, MEP and member of the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Research and Energy has a great deal at stake in this debate. talked to him.

The European Commissioner for Competition has said that in order to combat protectionism, the energy sector needs “European standards”.

But why should Member States unify the European energy market?

The current energy crisis can only be resolved through an integrated EU policy which can achieve the completion of the internal electricity and gas market, as the Green Paper suggests. This way we can overcome the current talk of “national standards” through a single European network with common regulations and standards guaranteed by a European regulatory authority, new interconnection infrastructure, higher investment to increase the capacity of electricity generation, and national markets truly open to free and legal competition.

How can this be conciliated with the need to respect the right of Member States to make their own choices in the energy sector?

A common policy in a single market should not question the freedom of Member States to make their own choices. For example, in Italy there is no question of a return to nuclear power and the EU will not discuss this as an option. The Green Paper is very clear on this point.

Europe’s energy supply is mainly dependant on the OPEC countries and Russia. These countries, however, provide no guarantees of stability. How do we find a common approach through the issues of foreign affairs?

The EU needs to talk and negotiate with a single voice on an international level: a new partnership with big suppliers like Russia, and the reinforcement of cooperation with our main partners in the Middle East, Asia and America, these things will be fundamental. Diversification of suppliers is the key. But for this to happen, taking the gas sector as an example, it will be necessary to built regasification plants to allow the importation of liquid gas from different countries, breaking the ties with countries which historically were suppliers of gas and which we are linked to with pipelines.

The Green Paper also demonstrates the Commission’s desire to move towards a liberalisation of the internal market in the gas and electricity sectors.

Yet how will this be possible considering the growing protectionism at the base of incidents like the Enel-Suez affair?

We are in a delicate phase and, as in other sectors, national interests are delaying the process of European unification and integration. However, it is significant that that Commission has introduced the objective of a single and competitive energy market as a high priority of its next term. The European Parliament, approving a common resolution, has also expressed its concern regarding the distortion of the market caused by protectionist measures to support leading companies in national markets. It is clear that it is now down to the Council of Ministers to reach an agreement and to commit to it.

Greenpeace has been the first to criticise the Green Paper, which would not condemn the presence of large nuclear power plants and which supports the mining of coal without sufficient focus on renewable energy sources.

Renewable energy sources are a vitally important part of the energy mix which the EU should call on. We should do more, whether it be in the field of research or at a legislatory level and impose binding targets for the use of these energy sources, which is what the European Parliament has recently been pushing for. Nevertheless, we can not forget that to assure a secure supply, it is essential to consider every source of energy.