Stable energy prices and a smooth supply of gas are a priority for Europeans, according to a special EU opinion poll on climate change (Special Eurobarometer 409 of March 2014). The European Commission under its current president, Jean-Claude Juncker, seems to have heeded the concerns of Europeans and crafted a grand plan to form an energy union that would reduce dependency on Russian gas while fighting climate change. Work started in earnest on 4 February, with a meeting of the European Commission in Brussels, followed by another meeting on 6 February in Riga, Latvia, with European ministers for energy, private and non-governmental actors.
The energy union focuses on five different areas, also called dimensions, but the first one, security of supply, is by far the one that weighs more heavily in terms of EU’s foreign policy. It basically aims at reducing the dependence on imports. Each of the 28 EU member states imports energy in different quantities, whether this is crude oil, natural gas or solid fuels, while Italy, France and Germany are the ones relying more heavily on foreign energy. With Russia supplying the EU countries with over 53% of their energy, and given the volatile EU-Russia relations since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the security of supply is quite important. EU cooperation with Turkey and Ukraine are part of the plan, as mentioned by the Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete, at the Riga meeting.
Negotiating imports with one voice was what the then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk thought of when he first proposed a European energy union in 2014. Today the energy union has become much more. The union now implies having a single internal energy market, both legally and in terms of physical infrastructure. Some steps were taken in past decades and a single platform now sets electricity prices and flows in the EU, while another platform regulates part of the gas transportation and sale at a few gas interconnectors. However, a single market for energy would entail not only getting rid of the national taxes on electricity and gas to let prices be set through competition at the energy trading centers, but also linking the production of renewables in one member state to their consumers in the other. This is what the Greens/ European Free Alliance advocate for.
In terms of energy efficiency, which is known as the third dimension of the EU’s energy union, the plan is to focus on buildings. According to the European Commission, residential buildings use 41% of all EU energy to heat in winter, and nine of ten houses do this inefficiently. More than half of this energy is imported gas. It is hoped that private investment in the buildings renovation sector can change this.
Decarbonizing the economies and research and innovation are the fourth and fifth dimensions of the energy union. The EU needs research and innovation to succeed in achieving its own target of 40% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030. New technologies aim to focus on zero-carbon and low-carbon electricity and electrification of vehicles among others.
Maroš Sefčovič, European Commission Vice-President for the energy union, is tasked to present energy union proposals on 25 February, which will then be discussed among governments in the European Council on 19-20 March. It is expected that the resulting legislative proposals coincide with those on the 2030 energy and climate strategy.