Commission launches debate on European energy strategy

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the geopolitical, economic, and environmental stakes involved in the future of Europe’s energy supply.

Fears over climate change, combined with predictions of huge rises in energy consumption over the coming decades, have resulted in the Commission’s adoption of a green paper on the security of the Union’s future supply of energy. With the European Union producing only half of the energy that it needs, and an estimated increase in transport alone of between 20% and 30%, the Commission fears that the energy dependence of the Union could become increasingly alarming. In 1999, Europe spent 240 billion Euros on importing energy sources, with 45% of oil imports coming from the Middle East, and 40% of natural gas from Russia.

“Confronted with both increasing external dependence and the urgency of the fight against climate change, the European Union cannot be complacent,” said Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President in charge of Energy and Transport. “We have to be aware of the efforts needed to try and define a real European strategy, more coherent and responsible: it means a wider energy supply and a genuine policy for rationalisation of energy consumption, particularly in the building and transport sectors.”

Following the establishment of the internal energy market, and amid fears of climate change, any policy taken on by a single Member State will inevitably have a recurring effect on the operation of the market in other Member States, says the Commission. This means that energy policy must take on a new Community dimension.

The Commission’s green paper has outlined five main areas for consideration:

  • a tax instrument designed to produce a genuine change in consumer behaviour with regard to energy saving and diversification towards non-polluting energy;
  • a truly alternative transport policy to revitalise railways and reorganise road transport;
  • financial measures to support an increase in renewable energies;
  • the maintenance of relative autonomy, with an analysis of the medium-term contribution of nuclear power; and
  • an acceleration in the completion of the Single Market in order to examine ways of strengthening the strategic oil stock mechanism, and consider ways of extending it to gas, but at the same time as using coherent energy taxation to steer consumption towards environmentally-friendly sources.

The emphasis on nuclear energy has concerned environmentalists. “Energy efficiency and renewable energy are the only sustainable way to reduce dependency on imported energy and reduce CO2 emission in the long run,” said Patricia Lorenz of Friends of the Earth Europe. “Continued support of nuclear will only delay the necessary steps needed. We call upon the Commission not to accept this draft. Environment Commissioner Wallstrom should take the lead and make clear that nuclear energy is not sustainable because of the safety risk and growing radioactive waste amounts, for which still no solution is in sight.”

Instead of proposing a ready-made strategy, the Commission has decided to launch a wide-ranging discussion on a number of key questions:

  • can the EU accept an increase in its dependence on external energy sources without compromising its security of supply and European competitiveness?
  • Should there be a consistent and co-ordinated policy in the European Community?
  • are tax and state aid policies in the energy sector an obstacle to competitiveness?
  • what should supply and investment promotion agreements with producer countries, particularly Russia, contain?
  • should more reserves of coal, oil and gas be stockpiled?
  • how can the development and better operation of energy transport networks in the EU and neighbouring countries be ensured?
  • should the gas, oil and nuclear sectors pay for research and technological development of renewable energy sources?
  • how can the Community find a solution to the problem of nuclear waste, reinforce nuclear safety, and research fusion technology?
  • which policies should be used in order to permit the EU to fulfil its obligations within the Kyoto Protocol?
  • can a programme to promote biofuels and other substitute fuels, including hydrogen, geared to 20% of total fuel consumption to 2020, continue to be implemented via national initiatives, or are co-ordinated decisions required on taxation, distribution and prospects for agricultral production?
  • should energy saving in buildings (40% of energy consumption) be promoted through incentives such as tax breaks, or are regulatory measures required?
  • is the imbalance between road haulage and rail inevitable, or could corrective action be taken, however unpopular, particularly to encourage lower use of cars in urban areas?
  • how can Europe develop more collaborative visions and integrate the long-term dimension into deliberations and actions undertaken by public authorities and other involved parties in order to evolve a sustainable system of energy supply?

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