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Opportunity for a Greener European Energy Policy

October 22, 2014

The new presidents of the European Commission and the European Council are on the same page in terms of energy and climate policy. This creates a unique opportunity for the European Climate and Energy Summit later this week, say Ruud Lubbers and Paul van Seters on Mejudice.This means more renewable energy, more shale gas, and less coal.

Climate and Energy High on the European Agenda

On October 23-24, the European Council will take a final decision on the new policy framework for climate and energy. This policy is based on a triple approach of energy, green growth, and climate change. The conclusions made at the meeting of the European Council in June for the first time officially discussed in this respect the creation of a European Energy Union. But that was only the beginning.

The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the new President of the European Commission and of Donald Tusk as the new President of the European Council will have a positive effect on the EU climate and energy policies next year. Juncker and Tusk have recently expressed strong views about these matters. In recent years, the focus was always on the Van Rompuy Plan to save the Monetary Union, namely the euro. Now the European Energy Union of Juncker and Tusk will take precedence.

On July 15, Juncker published a list of ten policy areas on which he proposes to focus the agenda of the next Commission. Climate and energy are number three on this agenda, after job creation and the Digital Single Market. Juncker writes that it is his ambition “to create a resilient Energy Union with a forward-looking climate change policy." He refers to the usual ideas about energy policy: the pooling of resources, combining infrastructure, strengthening negotiating power vis-à-vis third countries, diversifying sources, reducing dependence, and increasing efficiency (significantly above the 2020 target).

Juncker also emphasizes in this context the need to strengthen the share of renewable energies. Juncker sees two sides to this coin: renewable energy is not only a matter of responsible climate change policy but it is also an industrial policy imperative, at least if we want to have affordable energy in the medium term. Therefore, he “strongly believes in the potential of green growth.” He even wants the new Energy Union "to become the world number one in renewable energies."

European Union Energy

Juncker is also ambitious with regard to climate change: "I want the European Union to lead the fight against global warming ahead of the United Nations Paris meeting in 2015 and beyond, in line with the objective of limiting any temperature increase to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels." But Juncker not only holds strong positions on energy, green growth, and climate: he emphasizes the interconnectedness of these three topics.

Donald Tusk’s ideas on an Energy Union have a different background than Juncker’s, but are no less firm. Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland since 2007, wrote a piece in April 2013 for the Financial Times in which he proposed the creation of an Energy Union aimed at reducing Russia’s dominance over European energy markets. Tusk formulates six principles to achieve this. Given Poland’s extreme dependence on Russian gas, it is not strange that these six principles are primarily related to energy security. As these six principles are almost identical to parts of Juncker’s agenda, Tusk and Juncker will combine their considerable forces to create a European Energy Union.

At the same time, Tusk wants to speed up the exploration and exploitation of shale gas in Poland, which has the largest reserves of shale gas in Europe. By doing so, the use of coal and CO2 emissions can be reduced — just like the Americans did. Greener and more affordable energy will also improve Europe’s competiveness. For Tusk, the Energy Union should be focused on two main goals: renewable energy wherever feasible, and also shale gas and less coal.

Tusk is certainly not the first prominent Polish politician to point out the need for a European Energy Union. Jerzy Buzek, former Prime Minister of Poland (1997–2001) and former President of the European Parliament (2009–2012), together with Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission (1985–1995), issued a joint declaration in 2010 that called for the creation of a European Energy Community aimed at giving Europe a stronger, deeper, and common energy policy. Buzek and Delors also proved to be proponents of linking energy policy to sustainable growth and climate change: "An energy policy which guarantees access to energy at reasonable and stable prices, which maintains our industrial competitiveness, and which promotes sustainable development and the transition to a low-carbon society."

We think the European Council on October 23–24 should endorse the ideas of Buzek, Delors, Tusk, Juncker and others, and give the Energy Union a threefold mandate for energy, green growth, and climate change. Eurocriticism and Euroscepticism all too easily ignore the tremendous opportunities that lie here. After the Van Rompuy Plan, we now need a Juncker–Tusk Plan; a new Marshall Plan for jobs in Europe by means of green growth and energy security, and which also benefits the climate!

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