Perhaps it helps to remind ourselves what energy union isn’t? Energy union isn’t a new thing, such a new European treaty or agency. It isn’t a new single legal framework, or a new single package of laws or a new single structure of any kind. For these reasons I prefer to avoid to writing energy union with Capital Initials, as Donald Tusk did last year in the FT (cf pic).
So what is energy union then?
In a single sentence, I see energy union as Europe doing more of the same things as we did before only (hopefully) better.
For me this means continuing to apply the EU treaties in general and the energy chapter objectives in particular. We should modify existing framework rules (EU laws etc) where there is a good case to do so.
The fields of energy, environment and internal market all remain shared competences under EU basic law. Based on the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity in Article 5, this means there are natural limits to Union-level actions towards other levels. There is e.g. no EU plan to harmonise mains plug sockets.
To do more of the same only better relies, as one would expect, on the same European institutions, the same rules of procedure and the same or similar framework conditions that, in turn, shape how people and companies obtain, use and conserve various forms of energy.
The energy union work programme that the Commission set out in February comprises 43 initiatives to be undertaken over the next four years or so. Some are big, some small, some will be binding, some not, some may be dropped, others may emerge. Parliament and Council got their hands of the first two bills in July.
The quality of the outcomes as a whole (affordable, clean, reliable energy systems) relies on the quality of each of the component parts, before, during and after the present activities. We need to ensure our objectives are met today as well as in the future. Moreover, the foreseen energy union legislation will for the most part only amend existing rules rather than create new ones.
Lastly, one could see energy union also in communications terms as a slogan! or a #tag or both. This helps unify the many initiatives, including e.g. 2030-framework actions, into a more cohesive policy narrative, in Brussels at least.
The scope of energy union risks being confusing as the formal work programme excludes much environmental rule-making and most competition matters. However due the significance of these later two policy areas, it helps to see them as at least overlapping with the energy union‘s work programme, for example as regards pollution from large combustion plants and the situation of Gazprom operations in the EU market. The key Commissioners certainly see these areas as relevant to or even a part of energy union based on public statements they have made.
Is energy union transformational?
It should be transformational but it isn’t so far. The global climate crisis and the linked need for our societies to exit fossil fuels over 1-2 generations, starting with coal, ought to make it a radical programme for change. However under its present leadership – not just the two EC principals, but the fractious debates and outcomes in all institutions, it’s far from there today.
More of the same only better. Hopefully.