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26/02 -EC unveils plans for Energy Union

There was widespread coverage amongst the EU media and also in Russia and China on this subject. European vice-Oresident, Vice President Maroš Šefčovič and Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete unveiled the European Commission’s proposal for an energy union, which aims among other things at increasing electricity interconnections, enhancing energy efficiency and above all cutting down on foreign gas delivery, following deepening tensions with Russia, which provides much of Europe’s natural gas.

Skai TV reports that VP Šefčovič stressed that this strategy gives the opportunity to Europe to achieve a more sustainable, cheap, competitive and safe energy for consumers and businesses. The EC confirmed its proposal for an Energy Union was a “significant step” towards unifying member economies and removing reliance on Russia. All media report that according to VP Šefčovič, it is “undoubtedly the most ambitious energy project” since the European Coal and Steel Community.

Danish Information adds that President Jean-Claude Juncker even said it was time for energy to be included in the fundamental freedoms of the union. Vikeraadio reports that €1 trillion will be invested into the EU’s energy sector by 2020, and Naftemporiki adds that the EC estimates that some €40 billion will be needed in order to achieve the EU’s minimum interconnection target. The initiative “Connecting Europe” as well as the Investment Plan for Europe will be among the financing source for the project. Il Sole 24 Ore notes that the EU-28 will discuss this issue during a summit in March. Die Presse notes that representatives of the industry and business community praised the plans.

Renaud Honoré comments in Les Echos that it is high time the EU addressed the fact that, with €400 billion spent every year, it is the world’s largest energy importer. He says that M Sefcovic also presented a roadmap reaffirming the Union’s climate ambitions ahead of the Paris conference. Il Sole 24 Ore specifies that the EU set out targets for reducing harmful emissions and boosting renewable energy by 2030. Mr Šefčovič told The Financial Times that Brussels should also play a role in ensuring greater price transparency to prevent any country from being overcharged. FAZ explains that he wants the Commission to have a bigger say in negotiations regarding gas supplies between EU member states and non-member states, so as to provide transparency on prices, volumes and delivery terms.

Diario economico meanwhile focuses on energy interconnections, reporting that according to Miguel Arias Cañete, the EC will do everything possible to support all efforts to avoid energy isolation of member states. The EC intends that, until 2020, all member states may move 10% of their production capability, raising the goal to 15% in 2030. TVE1 reports that Spain is expected to play a leading role in boosting a single European energy market from here to 2020. Rzeczspospolita notes that the proposal does not make provisions for joint gas purchases, which had been one of the salient points of last year’s outline of the union, as proposed by then-PM Donald Tusk.

Gazeta Wyborcza however writes although less ambitious than Poland would like, the proposal could strengthen the EU’s capacity to resist Russia’s political-energy pressure. TVP adds that the now President of the European Council Donald Tusk expressed satisfaction with the EC’s proposal. However, some criticisms appear too. BNT and BNR report that not all EU member states are happy with the strategy: Germany opposed some of outlined measures, and Hungary said it was opting out, fearing loss of sovereignty. Berlingske says it “might be difficult” for the EC, underlining that the EU countries have blocked the proposal before, as energy infrastructure is also a question of security policy.

Jan Stuchlík highlights in E15 that the EU will have to convince member states about its plan. He mentions several issues of the project and notes that the hysteria caused by concerns about gas supplies from Russia alone is not enough for governments to obey Brussels. Martin Kováčik explains in Pravda that everything depends on whether the plans divide in smaller ones, noting that most of them have already been proposed in the past. Michael Bauchmüller notes in SZ that the EC’s vision for an Energy Union has “nothing to do with the realities of the current European energy market.” With some EU member states implementing capacity markets, the EU’s architecture of a common energy market is “starting to fall apart.”

Energy expert Jürgen Döschner notes on ARD that whilst the EC’s idea for an Energy Union is “a surprising and refreshing move,” its strategy paper includes “major drawbacks, contradictions and back doors” – its biggest problem being the EU Treaty, which states that energy is a matter for EU member states. Besides, only the eastern member states would profit from an energy union; the rest would not experience “any crucial additional value,” says Bernhard Pötter in Tageszeitung. According to him, the Commission is “not brave enough” for a real “big transformation of the energy market.”

On Rbb, Chairman of the European Green party Reinhard Bütikofer calls the EC’s energy strategy a “missed chance” because it is “too reluctant” regarding real change for energy efficiency and renewable energy. According to Belgian media, the Greens also regret the missed opportunity to launch an energy transition in the EU. Greenpeace highlighted the contradictions of the energy plan, which aims at reducing CO2 emissions and increasing the importance of renewable energy while supporting the fossil energy such as coal.

Finally, Russian Kommersant laments that Europe has not included Russia among its strategic energy partners. The newspaper notes that the EU Energy Union plan could be far more dangerous for Russia than earlier tentative plans for common gas purchases, as the new version of the plan would expand the EC’s powers to influence intergovernmental agreements or even commercial contracts.©europeanunion2015

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