The European Commission has announced a plan to amend the EU Treaties to make regions, not national governments, responsible for decisions over the so-called “energy mix”, or what energy is produced where.
“The era of the national energy mix is over,” Vice President for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič told journalists in Brussels on 1 April. “The era of the Energy Union has begun. And regions are the motor of that Union.”
The idea is that regions will become the dominant decision-makers over energy policy in Europe in future. They will set regional renewables and energy efficiency targets, cooperate on infrastructure development, and most importantly, decide jointly on whether and how much energy is produced from coal, gas, oil, nuclear, biofuels, wind, solar etc.
Šefčovič made his announcement on the esplanade outside the European Parliament – an unusual choice for a Commissioner. A spokeswoman explained that it signified a united front with MEPs – and therefore the full backing of EU citizens – on this issue.
“With the Parliament on board, we have Europe on board,” Šefčovič told the bedraggled huddle of journalists vainly attempting to shield their material from the grey sheets of rain and get past the Commissioner’s personal audiovisual team.
He repeated what is fast becoming his mantra: “The free movement of electricity can be, must be and shall be the EU’s fifth fundamental freedom.” Šefčovič explained that he had decided to amend the EU Treaties to reflect this new freedom – and then figured he might as well make a few other adjustments at the same time.
“It is better to do it all in one go than risk a never-ending story,” agreed Vice-President for Better Regulation Frans Timmermans in a press release. “This will lead to a more ambitious Treaty”.
Against all expectations, Member States have reacted with enthusiasm. “This is a wonderful idea,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron in a first reaction. “Britain has always felt it is a region in its own right.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel was similarly welcoming: “Germany looks forward to help from its neighbours to further develop – and in particular fund – our Energiewende.” Sources close to French President François Hollande expressed a similar sentiment of joy at the prospect of other countries “sharing the spoils” of nuclear power.
An official reaction from the Parliament meanwhile, was not yet available at time of press, as the main centre-right and centre-left groups reportedly could not agree on whether to “welcome” or “wholeheartedly embrace” the news. MEPs from Euroskeptic parties used the occasion to launch their own campaign for Treaty change: “Scrap the Treaty”.
In a joint press release, trade associations Eurelectric and Eurogas, representing the European electricity and gas industries respectively, said they support Treaty change as long as it contributes to the completion of the internal market and reform of the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS).
NGOs meanwhile welcomed the news, but expressed disappointment too. “This is a step forward,” said a spokesman for Greenpeace. “But once again we are talking about energy supply rather than energy efficiency. And how will this be enforced? What is a region?”
Regional stakeholders themselves gave a cautious thumbs-up to the announcement, but warned that without more funds from Brussels and national governments, there was little they could do to take the Energy Union forward.