Bratušek’s “grilling” just ended. It became painful to watch and outside of her prepared statements not a word in any language other than Slovenian.
Let’s say I think her chances of survival are a good way below 50%. But I also think it is not fair only to blame her for problems that already exist elsewhere and pre-date her portfolio designation just two weeks ago.
“Energy union” as a concept was first raised only in March, by PL PM Donald Tusk, shortly after the Ukrainian crisis deteriorated. There are already many different and competing concepts in circulation, most are vague and many folks are reasonably asking what exactly does it mean?
The original Polish 9-page plan is the most detailed, albeit containing some elements certain not to gain consensus or even majority support elsewhere (e.g. “rehabilitation of coal” and collective buying).
Others (esp. Van Rompuy, Juncker, EUCO) got around these “known unknowns” by diluting the Polish prescriptions, adding a parallel emphasis on climate change and concluding privately that someone somewhere would fill-in the gaps later.
Which left Bratušek in a tight and lonely spot today. To expect her to arrive, from a standing start, in only two weeks, with a plan and strategy all worked out was not going to happen. The mix of domestic and group politics only made things worse.
If I were in her chair today, with my >10 years knowledge and experience of this stuff, I know I could not be in a position to make any policy promises simply because the power to act on energy (per se) in Europe is already weak and diffuse and has been so for a long time.
The only thing anyone could really do new in such a position is to describe the dilemmas out there, the achievements to date, the balances that need to be struck, and appeal for the cooperation and coming together of everyone to get more stuff done; within and among the institutions, and among countries, citizens and companies in Europe. Strategy comes incrementally. Previous energy commissioners took time to settle in.
Bratušek said, too often, that energy mix is a national competence. This claim is an unhelpful mis-reading of the treaties, endemic in the Commission and elsewhere. It’s not her fault if she was badly briefed by others who ought to know better.
Theoretically, she could have mentioned some new ideas e.g. treaty change to rectify the energy chapter weaknesses (see my earlier suggestion) but as treaty change is such a political hot potato, such a radical move would have needed more confidence.
Bratušek aside, European energy policies today are in a mess and has been for some time. For five years Oettinger has failed to provide leadership and structure, to draw diffuse interests together, and consequently all around him are pitching things in different directions beyond his ability to control and go forward. I’ve said for some time that it will take years to get over the Oettinger-Barroso years. I think that stronger now than ever.
The governance of European energy systems relies on several chapters of the treaties. Energy (Art 194) is the youngest and weakest of all of them. Our progress on energy in Europe (integration, innovation, interconnection, lessening demand and lowering pollution) to date has relied more on other chapters, especially internal market, competition and environment and all this over decades of slow but steady work.
If the EU’s constitutional set-up remains weak, and Council delegations (member states) especially remain reluctant to cooperate or integrate further, there is naturally a limit to what European institutions, faced with certain vetoes, and armed only with democracy and majority voting can actually realise.
Someone once said we get the politicians we deserve. After the blood on the carpet is cleared up, can we get back to work?