Energy provisioning and climate protection: two key stakes of EU
Energy is present in the European construction since ESCS and EURATOM. Since then, Europe has set objectives regarding energy policy:
• Energy sovereignty. Europe was worried about (re)constructing the capacities of electric production, mostly by cooperating in the field of nuclear research, and securing its hydrocarbon provisions, a very topical objective with the Ukrainian crisis.
• Prices that permit economic competition. That was in the past, and still is about today, guaranteeing acceptable prices. This is particularly important for the industry sectors exposed to international competition, because the energy can be up to 20% of production costs and therefore it can strain European competitiveness. But there is always the question of the price of electricity that households can afford, with the amplification of energy insecurity: households whose energy bill eats 10% of their income, which creates tensions on their budget, are increasingly numerous in Europe.
• A low carbon energy policy, with the aim of limiting the anthropogenic effects on the climate.
ΕU, champion of climate protection
From the 90’s, Europe has proved willing and active on the question of climate protection. The 20-20-20 package defined an ambition, but the EU then struggled to impose it on the international negotiations’ scene. The new framework for 2030 was considered insufficient for many: the groups S&D, GUE/GNV and Greens/GER but also a number of environmental NGOs. An arising consensus has set as objectives until 2030 a binding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 30%, a 27% share for renewable energies in the European energetic mix and an increase in energy efficiency (to be decided in the next European Council). These lowly binding and not-so-ambitious objectives show once more that Member States continue to choose their policy according to their own specific interests.
However, at a time when intergovernmental and technocratic Europe is today accused for all shortcomings, if there is a domain in which Europe has succeeded in implementing concrete policies that create a sense of solidarity, it is indeed environment and energy. Through a number of legislations, Europe has contributed to the preservation of the environment, to the benefit of citizens and climate. Europe is clearly one of the most important places for environmental legislation. The Brundtlant report on sustainable development has shown that dealing with environmental and climate issues, is working to preserve peace in the world. The European project promoted by its Founding Fathers was indeed a peace project and the 2012 Nobel Prize invites us to perpetuate this peace project. What if creating a sustainable energy policy, to preserve the environment and the climate renewed this European project?
From the point of view of values, Europe remains the one and only climate champion, as she is presented and perceived as the most willing normative space concerning climate protection. However, in terms of leadership in the energetic transition in the world, Europe has lost her lead to the benefit of China and the United States. China has become the first photovoltaic and aeolian power in the world and now sells her solar panels to Europe, in a tense competition with the German industrial field for example. In the same way, in the United States the competition of solar energy that costs 1/3 of the nuclear price (½ if we take away the subvention effect) puts in danger European industries. To preserve her rank as economic and normative power, an energy Europe that allows mutualising the infrastructure and research costs and defines a common strategy in the industrial field, may be the solution.
Environment & Energy: which challenges for tomorrow?
It is only by giving ambitious and restrictive objectives that Europe will trigger the necessary impulse to create green energy industry clusters and jobs. Opportunities exist in domains that are today experiencing a complete revolution: energy storage using hydrogen, intelligent networks and meters (smart grids) capable of helping us regulate our consumption and adjust production, marine energies (hydrolian)… It would be interesting, like with Euratom, to mutualise means at the European level to develop Research and then allow for such techniques to be developed Europe-wide. In the same way, as far as infrastructures are concerned, a common use of resources and an increased cooperation would permit a better functioning of the energy market and better electric security. For example, there is a strong need to develop the electric networks between the North and the South of Germany, but also amongst the countries which exchange electricity through interconnections.
Finding a common energy mix for all the member States seems utopic, because of the diversity of situations (75% of nuclear dependence in France against 90% carbon dependence in Poland) and of cultures (anti-nuclear movement in Germany). The objective would rather be to develop a balanced mix to guarantee energy security in each Member States and at the same time to develop the network and interconnections that would permit the transportation of energy from one State to another in the European continent.
These national mixes should nevertheless be agreed on a low carbon-based strategy, in a coherent perspective with the objectives that the EU provides. The States, in the choice of their energy mix, should equally integrate all the costs in the calculation of costs of different sources of energy. Energy Europe should therefore respect the principle of subsidiarity and sovereignty of States as far as the choice of energy mix but should display a more durable and coherent energy policy, by mutualising the means and by creating the solidarities where today the interdependences exist anyway.
A renewed project, the means that come with it
If this European energy project seems to require little common sense and political voluntarism, it would actually bring about more integration but already needs a little more integration first. For a true European energy policy, the one that all European politicians ask for, we need the means to achieve it: a great European project for energy must be endowed with a consequent budget. It is not enough anymore to advocate ‘more Europe’, we should vote more for the means of such Europe!