Maros Sefcovic is currently undertaking a tour of European states, all in the name of discussing the Energy Union proposals set forth earlier this year (Teffer, 2015). The tour is designed to both promote Energy Union proposals and to foster discussion and debate on the topic so as to prevent any criticism of imposed governance by EU bureaucrats (ibid). Whilst the tours began last year, since the announcement by the EU for its support of Energy Union goals, the ball has really been in motion to begin the long and complicated process of creating an updated integrated energy service for producers, transit states and consumers alike.
The Energy Union 2030 proposal is reported as one of the most controversial attempts to modernise energy governance in Europe, with five main policy areas (European Commission, 2015). These incorporate the areas of: ‘Supply security; a fully-integrated internal energy market; energy efficiency; emission reduction; and research and innovation’ (ibid). Due to the wide reaching implications of the Energy Union plans Sefcovic has perhaps the hardest job currently, selling the plans to each nation. Sefcovic’s tour is set to advocate the benefits for each nation of supporting and implementing the coming proposals the EU makes in regards to energy governance. This tour centers on not only raising the publicity of the energy integration in the EU but it also encapsulates the importance of the EU itself. If the EU celebrates and supports the differences between nation states and how they implement policy, Sefcovic has to sell the Energy Union goals twenty eight different ways (Gurzu, 2015).
However, we must remember that the concept of the Energy Union and even the goals it aims to achieve are neither ‘new’ nor unprecedented to the extent is has been publicised (Johnston, 2015). Yes, the EU plans to handle the organisation of energy governance better than before, it also plans to increase the divestment of renewable energies and reduce the energy dependence upon external states as is currently apparent with EU-Russia relations. Despite this, the energy union does not represent a shift to a new single legal framework nor is it an attempt to subvert the already existing treaties and organisations of energy governance currently in play or at least for now anyway (Johnston, 2015). Highlighting this is the main task for Sefcovic, he must address the elephant in the room as it were, but additionally it is fair to say that the fresh faced policies the Energy Union promises to deliver are enough to allow for a significant amount of positive spin when approaching each member state individually, after all new is better right?
Whilst Energy governance is the main topic of discussion it is important that the Commissioner uses this time to also highlight the importance of the climate change proposals within the Energy Union package. The CAN Europe’s renewable policy coordinator Jean-François Fauconnier stated that the Commission itself needs to implement targets for each nation state government in order to ensure that national policies can both achieve and shatter the ‘renewable energy’ goals (Greenpeace, 2015). It is fair to say however, the Energy Union 2030 initiative places green policy as a core value in its bid for greater energy interconnectedness and is by far one of the most ambitious attempts at unifying the two in one overarching package. Specifically, one of the main green policy areas of the Energy Union package is a focus upon improving energy efficiency and sustainability with specific attention to the creation and collaboration of renewable energies in the pursuit of a greener Europe. In this, Sefcovic is able to spread a positive message that the EU is focusing upon both ‘preserving and improving the environment’ (Council of the European Union, 2015).
During the tour, Sefcovic has been successful in highlighting how the qualities expressed in the Energy Union tour marry well both the ‘business’ sector and the ‘environment’ (Sefcovic, 2015). In a recent blog he stated: ‘Companies that embark on a road towards a low-carbon, energy efficient future are a source of inspiration and mobilisation inside, but also outside Europe. They are perfect ambassadors for our Energy Union Strategy’ (Sefcovic, 2015). This underlines what the Vice President believes to be a true reflection of what the Energy Union Proposals are looking to deliver to the EU.
It would be remiss of Sefcovic to not recognise the difficulty the Energy Union and its current tour has to face with regards to its implementation and support of each member states. Many of the policy areas covered by the new proposal would more commonly fall into the areas which nation states regard as their political imperative in relation to ’national sovereignty’ (Oroschakoff, 2015). The Energy Union calls for nation states to share the same climate and energy plans as the EU as a whole and if they are incompatible will surely be convinced to model the rest of the EU. Sefcovic himself also recognises the need for the interconnection of energy ‘trade’ and ‘transport’ which is something that is regularly discussed from the perspective of borders and sovereignty (ibid). Gerben-Jan Gebrandy the Dutch Liberal MEP stated that “I am afraid you need a lot of magic and mystery to convince 28 member states that … we sincerely need this single energy union in order to stay competitive,” (Oroschakoff, 2015).However he also emphasised the given reluctance of member states in handing sovereign powers over to Brussels (ibid). Without coherency and competency the Energy union goals may collapse before they have even begun, although from observation this is the least likely outcomes of the European tour.
If we are to analyse anything arising from Sefcovic’s tour we can see that there have been countless talks with businesses in regard to their place within sustainability investment as well as cross regional development of energy grids (Sefcovic, 2015). It seems, at least on the surface, to be a positive exchange between the Commissioner and the member states that he has visited so far, and the Energy Union proposals seem to remain fairly uncontested, if Sefcovic’s twitter feed is anything to go by at least (ibid). Of particular note the Vice-President was enthralled with his visit to the Western Balkans stating: ‘There was something remarkable about that moment: 15 ministers from both EU and non-EU countries who enthusiastically applauded the agreement to further integrate their countries’ energy systems. Of course they all had good business cases of how it would serve their markets. But there was also a strong sense of solidarity and genuine trust among neighbours’ (Sefcovic, 2015). If we are to take anything from the tour I believe Sefcovic would appreciate the comradery that he has faced when visiting the member states.
All we can do for now is sit and wait for the upcoming one year reports to follow from the Commission to see what, if anything at all, has been achieved in the name of a brighter future for European energy. There seems to be a large share of positive press to be coming from the tour even amidst speculation over the lack of action taken in the past year. To conclude some of these positive feelings the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat stated that they support ‘Sefcovic’s work’ and wholly back the Energy Union Plans (Sefcovic, 2015). Perhaps if things go so well, the EU may even export their own governance internationally in a separate treaty…who can tell at this point.
Council of the European Union (2015). Governance system of the Energy Union = Draft Council conclusions, 21st October 2015: http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/ST-11531-2015-REV-3-COR-1/en/pdf – Accessed 30th October 2015.
European Commission (2015) Energy Union: http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/energy-union/index_en.htm – Accessed 28th October 2015.
Greenpeace (2015). NGOs call for strong EU policies to beat the 2030 renewable energy target. Greenpeace EU Unit, 15th June 2015: http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/en/News/2015/NGOs-call-for-strong-EU-policies-to-beat-2030-renewable-energy-target/ – Accessed 28th October 2015.
Gurzu, A., (2015). Europe’s Energy (Dis)union. POLITICO, 10th June 2015: http://www.politico.eu/article/europe-energy-union-community-infrastructure-pipelines-interconnectors-plan-juncker/ – Accessed 28th October 2015.
Johnston, M., (2015). What energy union isn’t, 22nd September 2015: http://markjohnston.org/2015/09/22/what-energy-union-isnt/ – Accessed 30th October 2015.
Oroschakoff, K., (2015). The energy union road trip, POLITICO, 19th May 2015: http://www.politico.eu/article/energy-union-road-trip-sefcovic/ – Accessed 31st October 2015.
Sefcovic, M. (2015). Twitter Feed: https://twitter.com/MarosSefcovic – Accessed 31st October 2015.
Sefcovic, M. (2015). Blog Post: The Energy Union Tour meets…sustainable companies, ambassadors for the Energy Union, 30th October 2015: http://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/sefcovic/blog/energy-union-tour-meets-sustainable-companies-ambassadors-energy-union_en – Accessed 2nd November 2015.
Sefcovic (2015). Blog Post: Positive Energies in Western Balkans, 15th July 2015: http://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/sefcovic/blog/positive-energies-western-balkans_en – Accessed 2nd November 2015.
Teffer, P., (2015). EU Commissioner to begin ‘Energy Union’ tour. Euobserver, 18th May 2015: https://euobserver.com/energy/128735 – Accessed 28th October 2015.