WWF Climate & Energy Blog

A durable Energy Union?


By Adam White, Research Coordinator at WWF European Policy Office’s Climate and Energy Unit

The European Commission is about to issue its ‘State of the Energy Union’. This is the latest step towards a policy framework that will oversee the vital 2020 to 2030 phase of Europe’s energy transition. As we look forward, however, we must not lose focus on the no-regrets actions that launched Europe’s renewed push for sustainable, affordable and secure energy. Four years ago, the Energy Roadmap 2050 identified renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy infrastructure as parts of the energy system that could be invested in with “no regrets”. As legal proposals are on the verge of being drawn up, is Europe ready to take the steps needed to seize these opportunities? Will the five elements of the Energy Union (decarbonising the economy, energy efficiency, the free flow of energy across the EU, energy security, and research and innovation) deliver the transition that Europe’s citizens, environment, and economies need for a sustainable future?

The State of the Energy Union is unusually candid for a Commission report in identifying those Member States which ‘could do better’. For example, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Austria are cited as needing additional efforts to meet their 2020 CO2 reduction targets while the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are noted for failing to meet their 2013 interim renewable energy target. This transparency is welcome – no individual bad apples can be allowed to spoil the barrel in such a major endeavour. It is also helpful to see the trends in delivering efficiency, renewables and energy infrastructure across Europe and assess whether the current pace of change is adequate. However, these dry and technical assessments are dependent on rather more animated political manoeuvrings.

All politics is local, and when the rubber hits the road, or the power hits the grid, national interests usually trump the hope of mutual gains won through collective action, even in the EU. Such could be the case for the Energy Union. The current sticking point of principle is whether each Member State should accept, even indicatively, to deliver its proportion of the 2030 renewable energy target, which is currently only legally binding at EU level and not on individual governments.

Citing EU law, a number of Member States loudly assert their statutory right to determine their own energy mix. However, the same countries tend to soft-peddle on their corresponding legal responsibility to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. And so the Energy Union is the latest flash point in a debate over Member State autonomy and European sovereignty that is as old as the Union itself.

In the case of energy however, those screaming ‘subsidiarity’ are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They risk widening the gaps between national energy systems at exactly the moment when Europe is trying to harness the benefits of a more integrated approach. In doing so, they, and their neighbours will miss out on the clear savings are available to countries willing to share the effort of being more efficient, integrating renewable energy, and reinforcing their systems though increased physical and trade flows of energy between them.

The Energy Union will only achieve its potential if it truly lives up to its name. Member States need to move together to deliver the ‘no regrets’ options of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy infrastructure. Any country that is out of sync with the rest will not only damage itself, it will damage the whole.

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