Maroš Šefčovič – Vice-President for Energy Union
President Buzek, Honourable Members,
Thank you for welcoming me in Parliament today during this Extraordinary ITRE Committee Meeting and for the strong interest in the Energy Union project expressed by many of you.
Establishing the Energy Union is one of the top priorities of the Juncker Commission, and I am glad that I can briefly present some of the ideas on which we are currently working. But more importantly, I am here to listen and take note of your priorities, your concerns, and your ideas. Some of you are preparing a written position, others will no doubt contact me to share their ideas orally. Our meeting today is very timely, just a couple of weeks before we intend to finalize the text. I am very much looking forward to our discussion after my short introduction.
Honourable Members, friends,
The current Commission started with a promise to be different: to be “bigger on big things”. The ‘big things’ we are targeting are those policies which truly have a profound impact on the lives of citizens across the EU.
It is about ensuring that house heating prices are affordable to all and remain stable regardless of geopolitical instabilities around the world.
It is about ensuring that our companies, including our Small and Medium Enterprises, can buy their energy at competitive prices and be engines of growth and the much-needed jobs of the future.
It is about ensuring that a great mind from Helsinki or Porto can make her scientific breakthrough in renewable energies here in Europe rather than go to the US or China, making Europe a leader in this field.
It is about guaranteeing that my children in Bratislava, and all of our children across Europe, and the children of their children, never need to pay the price for the environmental mistakes of their preceding generations.
These objectives may sound ambitious. But they are attainable. Right now, the political climate is there to set the Energy Union in motion.
The current geopolitical situation on our eastern border – however unfortunate in itself – has put Europe’s energy security even higher on the agenda.
The European Council agreement on the 2030 Climate and Energy Framework has opened the door for an ambitious agreement in Paris, and other political leaders around the world are finally showing responsibility and readiness to also engage in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
And we have a new Commission that will push for a resilient Energy Union with a forward looking climate change policy. The Juncker Investment Plan, designed to unlock the financial means the energy sector really needs, illustrates this determination.
This is our chance to make it happen! This is the time to make a big leap forward!
We must seize this opportunity.
Ladies and gentlemen, despite the important progress made in recent years (and indeed, we made progress), our current energy policies are unsustainable in every sense of the term.
Oil prices are highly volatile, causing speculations in the short-term and unpredictability in the longer-term.
The fact that most of our energy comes from outside the EU, notably from a few countries which use their energy supply as a political bargain puts us at constant risk for disruptions.
Our energy system is fragmented into 28 national silos and some parts of our continent are still insufficiently integrated in the energy system.
Like many in Europe we will sleep in our warm homes tonight, while an unacceptably high number of European households will not be warm enough, simply because their residents cannot afford proper heating. Ladies and gentlemen, 10% of our households is energy-poor!
But it’s not only about home consumers. EU companies are facing gas prices which are no less than 3 times higher than those enjoyed by their American counterparts. This is a huge burden on our industry and our economy.
And when talking about our industry: among the top 10 solar energy companies, none is European.
Still too much energy is wasted, and we have not yet built the low-carbon economy and society that is there to last, a concern shared by a very wide spectrum of stakeholders, from green NGOs to major industrial companies, as I could see in Davos last week.
Five dimensions solution
As I presented to you during my hearing, the Energy Union plan which we envision to tackle the challenges that I just described, consists of 5 main mutually-reinforcing and closely interrelated dimensions. By the end of February, we will propose concrete actions for each of them.
1. Enhancing our supply security, based on solidarity and trust.
The EU is the biggest energy importer in the world, importing over €400 billion worth of energy every year. Reducing this import dependence requires a series of different actions, starting with becoming more energy efficient and making better use of our own domestic energy sources. We should also better diversify both the sources and supplies of our energy – let the recent South Stream saga be both a lesson and an opportunity in this regard. Let’s inject more transparency in the opaque gas contracts and, together with HR Mogherini, let us design an assertive and coherent energy diplomacy at the EU level.
2. Building a single internal energy market which is highly competitive.
We need an energy market in which energy flows freely . An energy market where companies freely compete to provide the best energy prices, while respecting societal and environmental imperatives. To this end, we should really bring down the technical and regulatory barriers among Member States. This will not happen overnight. As a first step, we should build stronger regional cooperation arrangements, within a European framework. Based on exchanges I recently had with some local mayors and local energy companies, I am deeply convinced that we can only build an Energy Union with the active contribution of citizens, local actors and cities. Smart cities. We have to literally plug in the citizens.
3. Increasing energy efficiency.
As we all know, the cleanest energy is the one we do not use. Consuming less energy means polluting less, paying less and sustaining more of our energy sources. Improvements in energy efficiency simultaneously benefit security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability. Here again, consumers should be at the core. Study after study shows that consumers can benefit enormously from the market and improved energy efficiency. I was struck by two meetings I recently had: in the first meeting I was told that 90% of our housing stock is energy inefficient. In the second meeting, some private investors told me they are eager to invest in energy efficiency in the building sector. Let’s take action to connect the dots.
4. Reducing energy production pollution by decarbonising our economies.
We are on the Road to Paris, and this road too leads to the Energy Union. In October, we agreed on a binding target of reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40%. This created a dynamic that should not be lost. In Lima, the European Union worked well together, and HR Mogherini, commissioner Arias Cañete and myself will make sure that this cooperation, this ‘single voice’ in climate diplomacy will be heard loud and clear. But we also have to do our homework at home as well. I encourage all parties to reach a good and ambitious agreement on the Market Stability Reserve so that work can continue, notably on the ETS-revision. We have to step up our efforts in the field of renewables. As President Juncker stated before: the Energy Union should be the world number one in renewables. This means – inter alia – accelerating our efforts to decarbonize the transport sector, a sector with a growing share of GHG emissions.
5. Boosting renewable energies by investing in research and innovation.
Further investment in research and innovation is vital; not only in alternative energies but also in reducing the consumption of our current energy-related activities. Having the technological lead in these areas will create huge export and industrial opportunities, and thus also growth and jobs. I know this is a high priority for you as well, which you will discuss as your next item today.
Honourable Members, the 5 dimensions reflect a holistic approach across many, many policy areas, from transport, over competition and agriculture to industrial policy. Within this limited time span, I could not mention all aspects, but I am confident that our ambition is clear. It will be my personal responsibility to ensure that these dimensions and their respective policy fields are implemented in harmony, breaking the silo culture wherever it may still exist, and bringing all players to the same table.
The Energy Union also requires a strong and credible governance system. I carefully read the letter that some of you here present sent to President Juncker, commissioner Arias Cañete and myself on this topic. Having been so often to the Parliament myself, I take your concerns very seriously, and I agree that the Parliament, as one of the legislators, has a key role to play in making the Energy Union happen.
That’s why, once the Energy Union Strategy is adopted by the College in about a month, the first place I will go to from the College meeting is this House, to present the full Framework Strategy to you – Members of the European Parliament. I count on your strong support!
I thank you for your attention and I am looking forward to hearing your views and input.