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Opinion 01: ‘Political giant Europe is still a dwarf in the field of foreign energy policy’

‘It’s high time that Brussels took control of the European energy supplies.’ This is Groningen Professor of Energy and Sustainability Catrinus Jepma’s reaction to the ambitious initiative launched this week by the European Commission to come to a strong European energy policy. ‘Things are pretty tense between Russia and Belorussia. Shell is being pushed out of the Russian Sachalin project. With all due respect, if Balkenende for example goes to Putin to talk about the situation, it won't make much of an impression. You’ve a much better chance with power politics at European level,’ according to Jepma.


The proposal by the European Commission combines three important themes in the field of energy into one European policy proposal: liberalization of the energy market, reductions in CO2 emissions and securing energy supplies. The emphasis on liberalization and competition is nothing new; for example, the separation of networks and trade has already been imposed on member states by Brussels. The new targets for reducing CO2 emissions are ambitious – a reduction of at least 20 percent by 2020 compared with 1990. Jepma: ‘With these targets Europe is going further than Kyoto, both in the anticipated reductions and in the timescale – the Kyoto agreements run till the end of 2012.’


Security of supply

The most important element in the Commission’s proposal according to Jepma is the initiative to implement a joint (foreign) policy in Europe for ‘security of supply’ with regard to energy. Europe is becoming increasingly dependent on imports of energy. Russia is a very important supplier and the problems in late 2005 with the Ukraine and recently with Belorussia demonstrate our vulnerability.

Nevertheless, Europe has no idea what shape a serious crisis in the energy supply would take, according to Jepma. ‘I’ve heard that shortly after the Ukraine crisis in late 2005, even the IEA, the International Energy Agency, was not sure how or where the gas supply would be affected if the Ukraine shut off the gas transport for a month, for example. This is absurd and illustrates the need for research in this area. Europe, a political giant, is still a dwarf when it comes to foreign energy policy.’



In late 2005, Jepma was vice-chairperson of the General Energy Council (AER) and the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) who presented a recommendation to the Dutch government advocating a strong foreign policy in the field of security of energy supply, preferably in a European context. ‘The Dutch government has very gingerly adopted that advice, but now you can see that the EU is interested in this policy field. I’m delighted. Europe has been spoilt for a long time, and the Netherlands with the Groningen gas field is the most spoilt of all. It’s actually a miracle that the energy supply in Europe has operated virtually trouble-free for decades.’


Shifting sands

Thus far securing the energy supply has been the concern of individual member states and large multinationals. Jepma: ‘It’s shifting sands, it has to become more centralized.’ The professor expects that more doors will open for President of the European Commission Barroso than for Balkenende or the top echelons of Shell alone. ‘The problem is that member states and multinationals must trust that Barroso will really lobby for them and not for other large European energy companies.’

The plan launched this week for a European energy policy is a proposal – a ‘grand design’ in Jepma’s words. The crux is whether politicians, or the member states, will agree with the proposals. Jepma expects that the least resistance will be in the field of CO2 emissions, particularly if Brussels helps out financially. ‘The liberalization of the energy market will mainly meet resistance from the energy companies and the idea of a central foreign energy policy will mainly be a hot potato for national governments.’


Curriculum Vitae

Catrinus Jepma is Professor of Energy and Sustainability at the RUG. He is one of the people behind the research programme GrASp (Gas research and Sustainability Program), started on 1 January 2007, which dovetails well with the new plans of the European Commission. In this research project, major parties, including the RUG, ECN, TUD, Gasunie Transport and Essent, can combine their powers to develop knowledge and application techniques for sustainable energy supplies. Jepma: ‘For example, we are researching whether the grid is suitable for biogas, how you can use gas more efficiently and what would happen if Russian gas were to reach our Dutch gas hub via the Baltic.’ /MB
Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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