Energy security: the weak link of EU energy and climate policies?

Speakers: Demur Gaspard, Saudargas Algiras, Jávor Benedek, de Mendoza Asensi Gonzalo
Moderator: Lynch Suzanne

On Tuesday 20th of January, at the premises of Science14 Atrium in Brussels, PubAffairs Bruxelles hosted a debate on the theme of energy security: the weak link of EU energy and climate policies. The debate was moderated by Suzanne Lynch, EU Correspondent for The Irish Times, while the discussants were Mr Gaspard DemurDG Energy, European Commission, Mr Algiras Saudargas MEP (EPP/LT)Mr Benedek Jávor MEP (Greens-EFA/ HU) and Mr Gonzalo de Mendoza AsensiMember of the Cabinet of the Commission for Climate Action and Energy, who also gave an introductory speech. In the first part of the debate, Suzanne Lynch introduced the speakers and the main topics which the debate would touch upon. She then gave the floor to the discussants.

Mr de Mendoza started his speech by stating that due to both the current geopolitical and the economic conjuncture, the issue of energy security is at the top of the EU agenda and political debate, while it previously tended to be a more sectorial discussion. For these reasons, Mr Juncker put the Energy Union project among the main priorities for his mandate while the Commission as a whole put forward the Energy Security Strategy along with the stress tests for the gas supply. He argued that the coupling of the Energy Union and a forward-looking climate change policy is an important challenge, in particular from an internal market dimension. He added that, as the integration process has proved to be successful, the rationale behind this set of actions is to bring Europe closer to further integration. The Commission will adopt its official stances before the March EU Council, and will also issue a communication on the goal of achieving 10% of electricity interconnections. Given that the regulatory framework must go along with infrastructural adjustments and as the Energy Union will have to be built upon a solid EU-wide energy market, such stances –he added – should be presented at the same time. Mr de Mendoza concluded his intervention by explaining that this set of actions is of capital importance in order to best exploit the EU renewable resources potential.

Mr Jávor took the floor by stating that Energy policies emerged also as a consequence of the geopolitical tensions, however, he remarked that several aspects of the political guidelines towards a renewed energy policy are still to be defined. In Mr Jávor ‘s opinion, Europe should tackle the core issues stemming from the subject of energy by questioning both the sustainability of a cheap and abundant energy consumption system and the role of energy efficiency strategies, as well as by classifying the priorities’ hierarchy. He continued by stating that his political allegiance clearly indicates that the above-mentioned matters should be prioritised under the perspective of a forward-looking climate change policy. However in order to have a more clear political discussion, European institutions need to take further measures. He concluded by saying that the affordability of energy is also an issue to be taken into account in this debate.

Mr Saudargas began his contribution by expressing his point of view on the current energy security measures as a geopolitically-generated issue, while remarking that, compared to other crises, the EU has this time started preparing in advance. He also stated that the current situation should be considered as a stress test. As a result, the efforts which the EU should make could include both the short-term and long-term perspective as the parliamentary work on the European Energy Security Strategy has highlighted. With regards to the former perspective, the Energy Union project is almost unanimously considered as the only viable long-term solution.

Mr Demur started by stating that due to the current geopolitical context and its repercussions on EU energy policies, some degree of confusion between the concept of energy security and security of supply has occurred. He welcomed the report of the Parliament, which makes a clear distinction between the two issues, as well as the fact that the Energy Union project also adopts a similar conceptual framework. He added that security of supply is obviously a crucial issue and that the EU is urged to diversify the routes, as well as the sources of energy. He also underlined that last year’s Commission communication intended to tackle the issue of energy security in a broad and balanced way. In this context, he highlighted the importance of the role of the internal market, as well as the reduction in the internal demand.

The first main point of discussion consisted in the balance between short-term and long-term solutions through the example of liquified natural gas (LNG). Mr Saudargas replied first to this question by saying that, from an economic EU-wide point of view, LNG import is probably not the optimal long-term solution. However, it should also be pointed out that LNG import reduces geopolitical risks. Mr De Mendoza replied by premising that, should EU member states appropriately coordinate their actions, the European Union will find its way to a safe energy supply system. He continued by stating that the Juncker plan aims at unleashing resources for both new energy infrastructures and grid modernisation, which is of capital importance in order to exploit renewable energies. He concluded by saying that energy efficiency strategies are also an important part of long-term solutions. Mr Demur stated that LNG has proven to be a good diversification tool for several countries in Central and Eastern Europe, but the price dimension is a factor which should be also taken into account. For these reasons, it would be interesting to discuss also with other important LNG importers such as Japan, China or India on LNG possible future developments. Mr Jávor agreed on the fact that in a crisis situation LNG could be a solution for the security of supply, however, he added that this kind of energy is still expensive. He also pointed out that terminals in Europe are under-exploited. He added that there is no energy investment in Europe as a result of both capital scarcity and regulatory risk, whereas if we consider that the power plant stocks must be renewed, we should realise that Europe should exploit this momentum in order to renew its energy production system in order to establish a more environmentally sustainable model.

Another focal point of discussion consisted of the different sensitivities on energy-related issues among European institutions. Mr Saudargas stated that the EU has so far made great efforts in order to enhance its energy policies and that the Juncker plan is a part of these endeavours. He added that the maximum common denominator should be retained as the golden rule, especially by the European Parliament. Mr Jávor replied to this question by stating that the Energy Union, although in progress, is still to be defined in details, a fact which lies at the actual core of the political and institutional debate.In addition, he observed that some member states are still tempted to find individual rather than coordinated solutions. On the same issue, Mr Demur recalled the importance of the internal market dimension, while Mr de Mendoza emphasised how the new structure of the EU Commission, in addition to the choice of merging climate change and energy issue are already signs of a renewed impulse from EU institutions.

The final part of the debate and the Q&A session also covered the following issues: the South Stream project, the new EU Presidency of the Council, EU-Russia relations, the Russian gas pipeline to China, the energy dependency of South Eastern European countries, the role of energy efficiency, with special regard to heat-pump heating sector, the interrelation between climate policy and industrial policy, the question of oil and gas price fall, the energy market in Europe, the EU Energy Union and a possible review of registration, EU-US relations, diversification routes in the Mediterranean and the Caspian region.

Do you want to go further into the issues discussed in our debate? Check our list of selected sources which we have provided for you

European Energy Security Strategy, European Commission website

Communication from the Commission on the European Energy Security Strategy

European energy security strategy, European Parliament

Towards an Energy Union with a forward-looking climate policy, EU Council conclusions

Strategic agenda for the EU in times of change, European Council 26/27 June 2014

Energy efficiency: a key priority of Europe’s Energy Strategy 2011-2020, European Parliament press release