The European Economic and Social Committee wishes an integration of energy policies.

The EU advisory body has today championed the idea of setting up a European Energy Community (EEC), creating an EU-wide internal energy market and shaping a common, strategic approach to energy issues.

The idea was first mooted by Jacques Delors, a former European Commission President. The Committee is very much behind the proposal and has expanded on it in its own-initiative opinion entitled Involving civil society in the establishment of a future European Energy Community adopted at today’s plenary session.

Concerned about the dismal progress being made in completing an internal market for electricity and gas, the EESC bleakly pointed out that only 10% of electricity transited between countries, consumers were unable to choose an operator established abroad possibly offering more attractive terms, energy poverty was increasing, network planning was largely a national business, and the EU did not negotiate with supplier countries as a single bloc, putting member states and the EU at a disadvantage.

In a bid to build an integrated EU energy market, the EESC stressed the importance of a joint approach to energy production, transmission and consumption, and said Member States should act “responsibly” in this field. It vented its frustration with some countries’ unilateral decisions on energy choices, saying that “in a spirit of solidarity and efficiency” such decisions should have been taken “by common accord at EU level” instead. It also warned against prematurely ditching any low-emission energy source as that might jeopardise the EU’s energy policy objectives.

As a first step towards a European Energy Community, the EESC endorsed the idea of creating regional energy blocs within which countries and operators would coordinate their key decisions on energy mix and network development. “Not only would this generate considerable economies of scale and industrial development linked to new energy sources,” said Pierre Jean Coulon (France, Workers Group), rapporteur of the opinion. “It would also lead to a gradual integration of hitherto separate markets and cause prices to align.”

As budgets are squeezed and the development of new energy sources becomes ever more expensive, it was crucial to pool national resources and channel them towards projects that are in keeping with the EU’s objectives, said the EESC. It also favoured using bonds to finance these projects.

The EESC backed Mr Delors’ idea of creating “a European gas purchasing group” to strengthen the bargaining power of Member States and companies. It suggested establishing a common supply structure for gas and other fuels that would ensure consistency in negotiations and contribute to reducing prices. The EESC was adamant that the European Commission was best placed to negotiate energy agreements with third countries on behalf of Member States, should they have an impact on several EU countries. The Commission should also be allowed to ensure national energy deals with third countries are in line with EU internal market rules and security of supply’s objectives before they enter into force, said the Committee.

Given the all-encompassing impact of energy decisions, the public could not be left out of the debate, said the EESC. It thus proposed setting up a European civil society forum tasked with monitoring energy issues. The forum would work closely with European institutions and establish dialogue mechanisms with civil society representatives in Member States. “Energy policy is an area where winning public acceptance is of crucial importance and that can only be achieved through fair and transparent information,” said Mr Coulon.

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