I am writing to report discussions at the Energy Council in Brussels on 5 March at which I represented the UK.
The Council discussed the Commission’s communication on the energy union which had been published on 25 February. The Commission described the key themes underpinning its vision of the energy union: making trust and solidarity between member states operational in policy; regarding the free flow of energy as the “fifth freedom”; considering “energy efficiency first”, as energy source in its own right; and the low-carbon economy, including in the transport sector.
The Commission also set out five priorities for implementing the energy union: making the energy market work; energy efficiency; gas security strategies; driving interconnection; and putting climate protection at the heart. It also noted the importance of a fit for purpose governance framework and outlined plans for an annual “state of the energy union” report.
All but one member state signalled support for the energy union agenda. Some member states, including the UK, noted their support for a technology neutral approach to decarbonisation under the energy union including the use of nuclear power, while others argued against any EU support schemes or tax breaks for mature technologies such as nuclear power.
Other issues raised by member states included the need for careful consideration of proposals for changing rules on intergovernmental agreements and options for collective gas purchasing. There were strong calls to complete the internal energy market including swift action on key infrastructure projects; proposals for regional co-operation were welcomed unanimously. Finally, many member states, including the UK, Germany and others, supported strong action on the climate elements of the proposal and in particular reform of the EU emissions trading system, with a view to optimise outcomes in the climate negotiations in Paris in December.
The Council discussion on energy infrastructure and strategy for meeting the EU’s 10% interconnection target was more subdued. The Council welcomed the signing of the Madrid declaration on 4 March, which gave a political push to interconnection projects between France, Spain and Portugal. The UK supported the drive for interconnection to complete the single energy market and the proposals for the new European fund for strategic investment to facilitate investments in energy infrastructure.
Under “any other business”, the Czech Republic updated the Council on plans for the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) in Prague, which will cover nuclear safety, nuclear in the energy union and the EU as world industry leaders in nuclear technology.
Finally, the Commission gave an update on the trilateral gas discussions that had taken place earlier in the week between Russia, Ukraine and the Commission. The key success of the talks had been the agreement by both sides that the winter package agreement on gas supplies should be implemented. The complex issue of delivery to rebel areas had also been discussed; the Russians had agreed not to subtract the deliveries to these regions out of the quantities assigned to Naftogaz in Ukraine, but the issue would need to be revisited. The Commission was optimistic that both sides would now continue to work towards a summer package.