Whats in the pipeline for the EUs energy policy?

What's in the pipeline for the EU's energy policy?

Having seen the Climate and Energy Package through from its inception in 2007 onto the statute books, the European Commission has now turned its attention to another pillar of European energy policy: energy security.

The EU is increasingly reliant on imported fuels: by now more than half its energy comes from non-EU states. Bringing in energy from abroad brings with it considerable economic gains for the Union and for countries that supply it with coal, oil and gas. But it also entails a degree of political and economic risk, as highlighted by January’s Russian-Ukrainian natural gas crisis.

In November 2008, two months before the gas dispute, the Commission initiated a second Strategic Energy Review, entitled ‘Securing Our Energy Future’, designed to take a comprehensive look at Europe’s energy security over the next four decades.

The Review focuses on five approaches to improving energy security:

  • Building better infrastructure. In particular, this means more pipelines and terminals for importing natural gas and stronger electricity transmission networks within Europe;
  • Strengthening political relationships between the EU and countries from where it imports energy, with Russia being an obvious example but by no means the only one;
  • Improving Europe’s strategic reserves of oil and gas so that the continent is less vulnerable to import interruptions;
  • Increasing energy efficiency so that Europe in future requires proportionally less energy than it does today; and
  • Developing the use of Europe’s indigenous energy resources, including renewable energy.

So how is the EU’s goal of ensuring a secure energy supply likely to interact with its policies on climate change?

Last week, the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) made its own contribution to the discussion by adopting a report in response to the Strategic Energy Review.

The ITRE report highlights a number of areas where the goals of achieving energy security coincide well with the climate goals. It recommends setting long-term targets for renewable energy generation and energy efficiency as a way of reducing Europe’s dependence on imported energy.

Not everyone is convinced by the idea that energy security and greenhouse gas emissions reduction go neatly hand in hand, however. The word ‘coal’ is conspicuously absent from the press release that accompanied ITRE’s report. But the Greens/European Free Alliance group of MEPs claimed that it is coal, together with nuclear power, that lies at the heart of the publication’s policy recommendations. Both coal and uranium are perceived to come from more politically-stable regions than natural gas, and some member states – particularly those towards the east of Europe – may see coal as an important element of their energy security provision for years to come.

Each of the five policy approaches outlined in the Strategic Energy Review would enhance Europe’s energy security, and they will all probably be implemented to some degree. But it will be a combination of economics and politics (both at the EU and national levels) that determines which gain priority. Until more solid projects and policies emerge, then, it is difficult to assess the effect that Europe’s security of supply concerns will have on its greenhouse gas emissions.

EU leaders may provide a clearer picture of their thinking on this question when they discuss the Strategic Energy Review at the European Council meeting in March.

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