Hinkley Point is decided. The so-called guardians of EU law failed us, the single energy market broken, the rule of law diminished, and Europe’s so-called “energy union” still born. If we’re lucky it will take us five maybe ten years to recover from the Hinkley scandal. If we’re unlucky, then never.
Austria has said it will seek an ECJ annulment while three other states have said they are considering to join too. Perhaps the Court will apply EU single market rules where the Commission lacked the guts to do so, though its recent record is patchy. The Luxembourg process will take 1-2 years which provides time for others to recover their senses and potentially a change of UK government next May. The legal issues I’ll return to after EC’s text is out except to say here the applicants have a good case based on the fundamental legal principles at stake.
Farage fear fever
So what’s the context for this car crash? Whether it be more efficient vacuum cleaners or massive nuclear subsidies, it seems everyone is scared of the tyranny of UKIP and its ring-leader Nigel Farage.
This week Cameron has finally been reduced to gibberish, saying he will give Europe “a last chance” to reform even before the UK has said what reforms it wants. Huh? If the UK’s unspecified demands are not met, Cameron says he will vote for an EU exit in a 2017 UK referendum. Panicking or what?
Faced with this growing Brexit fever, up on the Berlaymont bridge Captain Catherine Day ordered the guardians to roll-over, put aside the rule of law and say to the UK it can burn its citizens money on a vanity project that in cash terms out-sizes the Channel tunnel.
Claims by VPs Almunia and Oettinger that the EC decision, to be published in the Official Journal Lex series, still does not create legal precedent are hard to reconcile with every other non-EC commentator (and some inside the EC) who take the opposite view.
By allowing Farage to hold Cameron and Day hostage, what exactly are we getting in return?
ENER, CLIMA and ENV are nominally the lead teams on the internal market and environmental protection (competences the Union shares with national administrations).
But it seems these services were ambushed by an unholy coalition of SG, SJ and COMP leaderships, reversing the initial grave scepticism tabled by the Commission at the end of 2013. On the final act, reducing the inter-service consultation (ISC) from three weeks to three days and hiding the process behind the EP Juncker hearings were key elements in Day’s manipulation.
What does all this mean for the effective functioning of the Commission in the future remains to be seen. Nothing will change much so long as Captain Day remains on the bridge (almost nine years in the job and counting). The incoming Juncker matrix will take months or perhaps years to find its equilibrium, so centre of power remains with SG. (Perhaps the matrix was even designed for that purpose?)
On Tuesday this week, DG ENER held a rapidly-organised event both to say ‘goodbye’ to Oettinger and formally to confirm Brussels worst kept secret that the internal energy market will not be “complete” by the end of this year. After speaking in favour of the single market, Oettinger then went on to admit he’d voted against it, underlining the extent to which his disparate services in Rue De Mot and Luxembourg have been left high and dry by the centralisation of power in the Berlaymont.
And so to new guardians?
Will Šefčovič and Arias Cañete et al be the best guys to help us recover from the Hinkley Point wreckage? That’s a discussion for another day.