Paula Pinho is Head of the Energy Policy Coordination Unit at the Directorate-General for Energy in the European Commission; Leonardo Zannier is Policy Officer in the Energy Policy Coordination Unit at the Directorate-General for Energy in the European Commission
This article reflects only the personal opinions of the authors and does not reflect the official position of the European Commission.
Energy – its origin, cost, use and security – impacts on global sustainability, on citizens’ health and wellbeing and on industry’s competitiveness. The world is currently transitioning from a traditionally fossil fuel-based system to an increasingly diversified energy mix. The European Union, through its 2020 and 2030 energy and climate targets, its leading role in creating the Paris agreement, and the launch of a comprehensive Energy Union Strategy, is fully engaged in Europe’s energy transformation.
This transition requires appropriate tools, and one of the main tools for the decades to come will be the governance of the Energy Union.
The principal objective of the proposed Regulation on Governance of the Energy Union, proposed by the European Commission last November, is to ensure the collective achievement of the Energy Union goals of sustainability, energy security and competitiveness, and the targets defined in the framework of the 2030 energy and climate agreement.
Together with other Commission initiatives, the Governance proposal will also ensure that international climate commitments made under the Paris agreement are fully achieved in a timely manner. The proposal further establishes a coherent legal framework aimed at preserving and enhancing long-term regulatory stability and certainty for investors while reducing the administrative burden for member states.
To attain these aims the proposal includes several innovative elements. Foremost among them is the first ever obligation for member states to define their integrated national energy and climate plans. Covering an initial ten-year period whilst also including a long-term perspective, these plans will offer long-term certainty to investors on national policy priorities and will play a crucial role in ensuring the achievement of the Energy Union objectives.
Positive momentum has to be maintained and increased if the integrated plans are to be ready by 2020
A comprehensive template for the plans is proposed in the Regulation; this will provide investors with a clear picture of member states’ planned objectives, policies and measures across the five dimensions of the Energy Union.
In the areas of renewables and energy efficiency, national trajectories will offer full visibility on member states’ priorities in terms of technology and sector preferences. A strong analytical foundation, together with proposed requirements for regional cooperation, will further translate member states’ visions into credible, reliable and cost effective objectives.
National consultations on the plans will promote participation from citizens and stakeholders in defining national priorities, thereby enhancing local acceptance and ensuring an inclusive and informed debate in all member states.
The 2030 energy and climate framework has introduced a new and challenging approach by setting renewables and energy efficiency targets for the whole EU, replacing the previous system that was based also on national targets.
Member states are now free to define their level of ambition based on their national priorities, cost effectiveness and geographical constraints. This bottom-up approach leaves member states with a great deal of responsibility: through definition of their national plans, member states are expected to adequately contribute to the 2030 targets agreed by heads of state and government in October 2014.
But the national plans as such may not be enough. How can we ensure that we reach and maintain a sufficient collective level of ambition across the five dimensions of the Energy Union? How can we stop a fellow diner leaving the restaurant without paying their share of the bill?
To address this issue, the proposal introduces its second innovation: a set of articulated provisions aimed at guaranteeing both the initial agreement of a sufficient collective level of ambition and sufficient progress towards long-term goals at the EU and national levels.
The Commission will play a central role in ensuring that a sufficient collective level of ambition is reached, and in guaranteeing the timely delivery of the Energy Union objectives. For that, the Commission will have at its disposal several instruments, including recommendations to member states and the introduction of additional EU-level measures to ensure an adequate level of ambition across Europe.
Member states are now free to define their level of ambition based on their national priorities, cost effectiveness and geographical constraints
For instance, the proposal lists a number of possible specific instruments to ensure the deployment of renewables across the continent and strengthen energy efficiency policies. In the area of renewables, member states can be asked by the Commission to introduce additional national measures, with the introduction of a new financial platform rewarding early movers.
For the new governance system to work, it will be important for member states to be ambitious and not to abuse the trust, flexibility and responsibility the proposed Regulation grants them. While active and detailed discussions on the legislative text are currently ongoing in the Council and Parliament – discussions that will determine the law’s final details – we can already see that member states are delivering on their shared vision. By now more than half of member states have created national working groups and structures specifically dedicated to the preparation of their national plans. More than two-thirds have also started the political processes needed to define their plans’ priorities and objectives, and several EU countries are actively engaging in discussions with their neighbours on the subject.
Positive momentum has to be maintained and increased if the integrated plans are to be ready by 2020. The Commission stands ready to facilitate their swift development, notably by supporting forms of regional cooperation and assisting technically with the preparation.
But the commitment of the Commission alone will not be enough. If we want to maintain our goals in terms of both timelines and ambition, we need the commitment and engagement of all European institutions and the support of European citizens and stakeholders.
Ultimately, the pace of the energy transition is not determined by Brussels or by European capitals, but by the daily commitment of all citizens in Europe.
IMAGE CREDIT: Carl Attard/Pexels