The European Union is in the search of a new centralization model. The final document adopted at the closing of the EU Summit held in Brussels on 18-19 March included the intention of establishing an Energy Union, with reference to the European Commission’s framework strategy on the establishment of the Energy Union dated 25 February 2015 (European council meeting (19 and 20 March 2015) – Conclusions / www.consilium.europa.eu).
The document prepared by the Commission stated that the EU, with the 53 percent of its energy demands met by imports and 400 billion Euros spent for that purpose, remained world’s largest energy resources importer. Six EU nations rely on a single foreign supply source (presumably Russia) in terms of the natural gas needs and therefore, are sensitive to sudden supply interruptions. The document underlines that ”The goal of a resilient Energy Union with an ambitious climate policy at its core is to give EU consumers – households and businesses – secure, sustainable, competitive and affordable energy. Achieving this goal will require a fundamental transformation of Europe’s energy system” (A Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy / eur-lex.europa.eu, 25 February 2015).
Another idea is that the EU countries are inter-dependent when it comes to ensuring energy security of their citizens. Therefore, it is important that the EU speaks with a single voice on the global policies and forges a unity based on solidarity and trust. In general, the objective is to devise an integrated continent-wide energy system that would enable the free flow of energy and fuel alongside the borderlines. This system envisages efficient use of resources, competition, and EU-scale regulation of energy markets and application of low carbon technologies. The system would coordinate the energy policies of the EU members and eliminate the problem of restrictions on the content’s energy markets and the energy isolation of certain regions.
Although there are general EU-wide energy regulations in place, the experience demonstrates that they are nonetheless made of 28 individual, national legislations. Judging by the framework strategy, the European Commission has decided to put an end to this. Certain problems on Europe’s energy markets also spurred the move. Among those are the lackluster performance on the sales market and limited choice of energy resources and tariffs for consumers. The number of the European households are struggling to pay their energy bills. Energy infrastructure is rundown and there is a need to attract new investments in this field and to stimulate the business environment.
European Integration: Are Union-wide Goals Detrimental to National Interests?
Reportedly, the establishment of the Energy Union has been a subject of discussions for the past 10 years (EU’s energy union must overcome serious obstacles / “The Guardian”, 25 February 2015). The efforts to create an Energy Union can be characterized as a continuation of the policy of deepening integration within the European Union. It is no secret that such organizations as the Council of Europe, European Parliament, European Court of Human Rights, European Central Bank, and such projects as Euro and Schengen zones are created to make borders between the regional nations more supple. So that the nations of the union are united under a single political, economic, financial and legal center, and albeit partially, use the single “command center” in terms of the implementation of the domestic and foreign policy. Presumably, the future Energy Union would enable regulation of the energy policy of the regional countries from the single center. The issue of particular interest here has to do with conjoining national interests with the ones of the union.
It is known that application of a common political course for the nations with different political and economic structures and development levels sometimes translates into undesirable outcome. For example, the policy of transition to common currency – the Euro – introduced as of 1999, created additional headache for the financial-banking sector of some EU countries and diminished their ability to cope with the crises.
Similarly, the European countries differ from one another in terms of their energy resources, energy demand, energy infrastructure, dependence on foreign sources etc. The energy-rich nations of the continent are the UK and non-EU member – Norway. Germany and the Eastern European countries are endowed with coal reserves. The hydroelectric power generation is common in the Northern Europe. Renewable energy is widely used in most parts of the continent; solar energy in Germany and wind energy in Spain. France covers significant portion of its demand on energy through using nuclear power stations (see: EU’s energy union must overcome serious obstacles / “The Guardian”, 25 February 2015). Every country is different owing to specifics of their energy sector. Along with the upsides of uniting the continent though a single energy policy, potential negative consequences must be taken into account and preemptive measures elaborated.
For now, the document on the table is a framework strategy paper that encompasses general objectives and principles. That being said, some administrative aspects are also considered. The document for instance states that the European Commission will play a leading role in the governance of the Energy Union and submit annual reports to the European Parliament and the European Council (see: A Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy / eur-lex.europa.eu, 25 February 2015). At this stage, the European public is concerned as to how much sovereignty on energy policy their nations would retain in the event of the establishment of the Energy Union. It is likely that the regional countries will want to ensure reliable energy security in exchange to compromises with respect to the establishment of such a union.
Potential Impact of the Energy Union upon Europe’s relations with Foreign Partners
Although the framework document on the Energy Union highlights application of environment-friendly technologies and usage of renewable resources, the gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine are indicated among the factors that prompt the acceleration of the establishment the new Union. According to the document, the ongoing processes of the recent months have demonstrated that diversification of sources, suppliers and supply routes is an imperative for safe and enduring energy supply for the citizens of the European countries.
Moreover, it says that the European Union will reconsider its cooperation with Russia in the field of energy. Indeed, Russia would be troubled the most by the establishment of the Energy Union because consolidation of the energy policy of the countries of the union could result in more systematic, rapid and efficient search for alternative sources and supply routes; something undesirable for Russia that aims to retain its advantage on the regional market. The Russian experts are explicitly cautious about the emergence of the common European energy policy. Some experts that analyze the activity to that end suggest that Russia must take action with respect to raising its credibility as an energy supplier and increasing positive dynamics in its political relations with the EU (see: Энергетический союз ЕС – новая упаковка для старых проектов / “Russian Council”, 27 March 2015).
The document clearly states that the efforts towards the establishment of the Southern Gas Corridor, called for the facilitation of natural gas imports from the Central Asian countries to Europe must be accelerated. This means that the significance of Azerbaijan for Europe, as a supplier and a transit nation, will continue to grow. Therefore, the TANAP, the groundbreaking ceremony of which took place in Kars, Turkey, with the participation of the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia on 17 March, being the component of the Southern Gas Corridor, bears importance in terms of achieving the objectives identified by the future Energy Union. Apparently, the common position of the EU countries on energy partnership would pave the way for more rapid, clear and streamlined negotiations with the alternative supplier and transit nations.