Q&A Andris Piebalgs, European Energy Commissioner

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Monday, July 10, 2006 - 15:05 GMT Jump to Comments

eGov monitor speaks with the European Energy Commissioner on role of energy in Lisbon agenda, the challenges of Europe in a volatile international energy market and how Europe is looking to face up to them.

Q1 Can you tell us a bit about your role as the EU Commissioner for Energy?

Working on Europe’s economic, social and environmental renewal in the framework of the Lisbon strategy is a major priority of the European Commission. Energy is a key sector of the European economy, vital to competitiveness and thus to the achievement of the Lisbon agenda, essential to meeting Europe’s Kyoto obligations, and a major factor in the Union’s external relations. Today’s energy landscape is challenging so the growing consensus – evident in recent European Councils – in favour of developing an energy policy for Europe, a common strategy, is indeed encouraging to the Commission. From citizens also, the message is clear – energy is a concern for all Europeans and people expect clear and concrete actions on all political levels. So as European Commissioner responsible for Energy, I am responsible for moving this consensus forward, achieving concrete progress on the development and implementation of an energy policy for Europe, focused on security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability.

Q2 There are great concerns about high and volatile energy prices, energy supply and growing dependence on fuel imports in Europe. How will the EU meet those challenges?

I am acutely aware of the challenges facing Europe in energy. The most visible symptom for most people is higher prices, but we need also to tackle the broader picture. The best way for Europe to rise to these challenges is for all Member States to work together, in solidarity, with a common purpose and shared policies, and from an internationally strong position. This is what the European Commission has proposed in its recent Green Paper on a common energy policy for Europe. The European Council has endorsed this approach and asked the Commission to come up with concrete proposals quickly.

The Green Paper responds to precisely those challenges which your question identifies and sets out clear priorities for action. Let me briefly outline what these priorities are and the new proposals which the Commission is preparing.

First, we need to complete a fully integrated internal energy market for Europe. We need to make the European energy market a reality for everyone - energy providers and energy users, whether large or small. Second, we need to establish effective ways Europe’s Member States can work together in solidarity. I am looking at ways of increasing network security and establishing mechanisms to respond to potential energy crises. We are also keeping the rules governing oil and gas stocks under review. Third, we need to make sure that we use a variety of different fuels, and increase the share of cleaner, more sustainable energy in our energy mix. Member States are, and will remain, free to decide their own energy mix, but their decisions inevitably have an impact on the wider energy situation in Europe.

To give a European perspective, the Commission has begun work on a comprehensive Strategic EU Energy Review - an analysis of all the energy sources used in the EU, and the knock-on effect of investment in them for the EU as a whole. The Review could lead to new targets, such as to limit the rise in import dependence, which could otherwise rise to almost 70% by 2030, or even 90% if you look at the oil sector alone. The European Council will discuss the review at their Spring Summit next year. I hope that this will become a regular exercise, giving energy policy the prime strategic attention it merits.

Our next priority is to tackle climate change, which, of course, is closely related to energy. There are two principal ways in which we can achieve this: energy efficiency and the wider use of renewable energy.

The Commission will this year propose an Action Plan on Energy Efficiency with measures to reduce by 20% the EU’s projected 2020 energy use. This is a top priority, not least because by reducing the energy intensity of growth, we tackle the issues of climate, security of supply and competitiveness at the same time.

We are also accelerating our efforts to increase the use of renewable energies in power generation, transport and buildings. This is also an urgent task, not just for reasons of climate change, but also because hydrocarbons are rising in price and cannot cope with rising global demand. To give coherence and greater impact to our renewable energy policy, as well as giving the longer-term certainty which investors want, the Commission will later this year present a Road Map for renewable energy, together with further proposals to promote biomass and a new proposal to promote renewable energy in heating and cooling.

Next, we need to increase investment in research and innovation. This is fundamental to making the necessary transition to the energy systems of the future. Our Emissions Trading System encourages not only research into low or neutral carbon technologies, but also their implementation on the ground. Internationally, we can expect multi-billion euro markets to emerge in the future, not least in the area of clean coal technologies, given that coal is still the most widely used fuel for power generation in large parts of the world. To help the EU energy technology industry take advantage of the new opportunities, the Commission will put forward a strategic energy technology plan in 2007.

Last, but certainly not least, is international relations. Europe must use its economic and political weight on the world stage in a much better way than in the past. Once we have clearly defined energy goals and aspirations, and then we should speak with one voice to promote those interests.

The Council and Commission recently agreed a joint paper which recognises that achieving our goals in today’s energy world requires a combination of internal and external policies. All sorts of other actions, in trade, development, enlargement, competition, research, environment, as well as financial programming, can help us achieve our energy goals. External policies, including the Common Foreign and Security Policy, also need to make a full contribution to the development of a European energy policy.

The Green Paper is only the beginning. We now need to involve everyone, at all levels, European, Member State, local, as well as individuals, to make our policies work. And we must get out partners on board, too, including the USA, Japan, China and India. In that way, the EU can make a real difference at global level.

Q3 As 94% of man-made CO2 emissions are attributable to the energy sector, how do you envision Europe decreasing its emissions at a time the EU must take measures needed to implement the Kyoto Protocol?

As I underlined before, the Green Paper has identified, as one of its six priority areas, the need for an integrated approach to tackling climate change. Three main lines of action in the area of energy were identified: increasing energy efficiency, increasing the use of renewable energy sources, and developing the potential of carbon capture and geological storage. Actions on renewable energy and energy efficiency will contribute to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions whilst at the same time enhancing security of energy supply. A lot of policies have already been adopted, but need time to implement. The results of our policies in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency will become more visible in the coming years. This year we will also launch an Action Plan on Energy Efficiency, as was announced in the Green Paper on Energy Efficiency adopted in June 2005. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme is another instrument which will help achieve cost-effective emission reductions in the energy sector and in energy-intensive industries.

Q4 What role do you believe Europe can play globally in creating renewable energy market that is competitive and has the support of consumers and producers?

Europe is the leading region for high tech application of renewable energy. The development of wind energy and biomass technology in the EU will make us less dependent of external supply and helps to reduce the green house effect but it sets also an example for the rest of the world by proving that the technology is mature and can be applied. Besides in our dialogs with our main producer and consumer countries, we always insist in the benefits of renewable sources of energy, which may have a positive impact both in the environment and in their economies.

Q5 In what way can increased energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy create business opportunities in the European market?

Costs of increased energy efficiency are lower then the benefits so extra money will be generated that can be used for more competitiveness. Both energy efficiency and renewable energy development will create new high tech jobs in Europe and the knowledge and products of these technologies will be exported to other parts of the world.

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