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The European Commission promises robust energy union governance

The European Commission will follow up on progress made on the EU’s energy union strategy annually, European Commission vice president Maroš Šefčovič said infront of Parliament on the 25th of February. Mr Šefčovič said he would start developing “a robust governance framework”, adding that the first ‘state of the energy union’ report would be presented before the end of this year. Mr. Šefčovič, who is in charge of the energy union, said the eagerly awaited strategy was “the most ambitious European energy project since the Coal and Steel Community”. It includes a wide variety of initiatives promising to kick-start a transition to a low-carbon energy system, to create an interconnected EU energy market and strengthen the EU’s position vis-à-vis external energy suppliers. But the impact of the energy union remains to be seen once more concrete proposals are tabled. The EU treaty enshrines member states’ power to control their own energy mixes, which limits the Commission’s power to encourage, or force, change. Climate and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete insisted that no treaty change to shift powers to the EU institutions would be required to meet the objectives of the energy union. But the Commission is seeking to enhance the powers of the European agency of energy regulators, ACER, to boost energy market regulation at EU level.

Mr Šefčovič argued that the strategy would put energy efficiency first and make it an “energy source in its own right”. But this could prove a tall order for the proposed revision of existing efficiency legislation and efforts to improve access to financing for energy efficiency projects to deliver.

A more innovative idea is the new electricity market design, which is to promote demand side management to allow energy efficiency to compete with other fuel sources in the market and facilitate the integration of renewable energy.

Green think tank E3G said the approach presents a welcome shift but now needs substance behind the principles. Insulation manufacturers’ lobby Eurima pointed out that the Commission’s commitments to funding building renovations need to be followed by clear criteria to ensure funds are allocated to appropriate projects such as deep renovations.

Environmentalists criticised the plan for undermining any initiatives towards a more sustainable energy system with an external energy policy dimension that includes a major drive for new gas infrastructure and partnerships with fossil fuel suppliers.

“The Commission says the EU should move away from fossil fuels but it also wants to chase after new gas supplies and doesn’t rule out coal,” said Greenpeace’s Tara Connolly, adding that Europe instead needs a “joined-up plan if it’s going to play its part against climate change”.

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Issue 40