EU calls for strong European energy policy

Nov 20, 2006 01:00 AM

Europe must find a united front on energy, José Manuel Barroso has argued at a major EU conference.
“The era of 27 EU mini markets, and mini policies, must end,” the commission president said at a high-profile commission conference on the EU’s external energy policy. “In its place must come a common approach, internally and externally.”

The conference was also attended by commissioners Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Peter Mandelson, Louis Michel, and EU external relations chief Javier Solana, along with 30 ministers from the member states.
Energy security is high on the EU’s agenda amid high oil and gas prices and growing European dependence on imports. The EU imports 50 % of its energy, and this is expected to grow to over 70 % in the next 15 years without major reforms.

Energy security will also be the main item on the agenda of the EU-Russia summit, with Brussels hoping to persuade Moscow to give greater assurances that it will not use Europe’s reliance on Russian gas as a bargaining chip. A dispute between Russia and Ukraine saw Moscow block gas supplies to Kiev in the heart of last winter, and Brussels is keen to avoid a similar stand-off in the future.
Speaking at the conference, Barroso, along with senior EU figures, called for a “common, integrated energy policy” inside the EU’s energy markets as well as in external energy relations.

“If I have one message for you today, it is that the external aspects of energy policy must be seen together with the internal aspects,” Barroso emphasised. “To have a successful external policy, we must have a strong internal policy,” he added.
The commission president outlined a package of measures which the commission will table in January. This will focus on the “creation of a true single market in energy”, energy efficiency, greater use of renewables and the development of new technologies.

Barroso’s emphasis on opening up the EU’s energy market is a clear warning to the more protectionist national governments.
“Let me be clear: open markets, not narrow nationalism, are the way to energy security and sustainability,” Barroso said. Barroso and Solana also called for European countries to openly discuss nuclear energy as an alternative.

While emphasising that the decision to use nuclear energy remains with member states, Barroso argued that “an honest debate on the costs and benefits of nuclear energy, underpinned by a rigorous economic analysis, must not be taboo”.
On external energy policy, both Barroso and Solana argued that the EU must present a unified front if it is to deal successfully with supply issues and forge deals with third countries.
Referring to last October’s Lahti summit, which centred on energy, Barroso said: “I made it clear that Europe needs to speak with one voice on energy, and was encouraged to see a real determination among European leaders to make this happen.”

But there is still a way to go before the EU finds this united voice -- as demonstrated by Poland’s continuing veto on the new EU-Russia deal until Moscow lifts an embargo on Polish food.
Solana spoke more bluntly than Barroso at the conference, noting that “we do not yet have an external energy policy for Europe”.
“Too often we have ended up divided or defending a line which is frankly a lowest common denominator,” Solana said. “That has to change.”
“Let us be clear,” he added. “If we are not able to promote a unified and substantive position on this issue, partners will run rings round us. It has already come pretty close to that on occasions.”

The commission is planning to develop energy agreements with several key partners over the next few months -- with Barroso stating that he intends to “make energy a central issue at every EU summit with third countries throughout 2007”.
EU external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner added that the commission intends to create a “fully fledged European energy community” throughout the EU and its neighbouring regions.
“Strategic energy infrastructure linking Europe with the Mediterranean sea, African sub-Sahara, the Caspian basin, central Asia and the Middle East should be the cement of our common energy security,” she argued.

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