The EU Observer has an article illustrating how the EU’s desperation to show that it brings results obliges it to fudge facts and so further risk its tattered reputation for trustworthiness. To be fair, the EU Observer points up the fudging but we draw the inference to ‘desperation’. We share their view on the risk this brings.
The European Commission issued a report in early February this year claiming that “Europe’s energy transition is well underway”. The report, on the State of the Energy Union, claims to review progress made towards the Commission’s 2020 targets since its first report in November 2015.
In its press release on 1st February, the Commission says that, “Since the publication of the first State of the Energy Union, several trends in the EU’s transition to a low-carbon economy were continued and strengthened.”
However, the EU Observer says that, “One should take a healthy dose of criticism when looking at the focus of the press release and statements made by …” the EU’s energy chief and its climate change commissioner. (By “criticism” they probably mean ‘scepticism’.)
The impression given by the press release is that significant progress has been made since the November 2015 report. However, the 2020 targets were agreed in 2008, which indicates that progress has been a lot slower than the Commission would have us believe.
The February 2017 report relies heavily on data that describe the situation in 2014.
“This rules out any causal relationship between any reported progress on those indicators and the Energy Union strategy because the situation in 2014 cannot be influenced by a strategy which the commission began in 2015.” (euobserver.com)
In other words we cannot know from the Commission’s report how much progress has been made as a result of introducing the Energy Union strategy.
The EU’s Energy Union has five dimensions: “Energy security, solidarity and trust; A fully integrated European energy market; Energy efficiency contributing to moderation of demand; Decarbonising the economy, and Research, Innovation and Competitiveness.” It also has 15 action points.
We pick out “trust” from the first dimension and “fully integrated” from the second. The Energy Union itself is ill-defined; we are not told what criteria will be used to indicate that union has been achieved. As with other uses of the word ‘Union’, sufficient room is left for interpretation of its meaning to achieve two, perhaps incompatible, objectives. The first is unity among the member states; this may be more easily achieved if the term is not too clearly understood. The second is trust; the Commission needs the EU’s citizens to trust that it knows what it is doing in the push for integration and is achieving its aims. This too requires the definition of ‘union’ to leave plenty of wriggle-room.
As usual there are two issues here that should be distinguished. The first is whether it makes sense to have an energy strategy across the Union; and the answer is surely ‘yes’, for both efficiency and environmental reasons. The second issue is whether an energy strategy requires an Energy Union, brought into being under a common jurisdiction; and here the answer is, just as surely, ‘no’, it does not need a supra-national government to impose its idea of union on energy production and distribution. Or any other Union.
A third issue would be to question whether the EU leaders and their legislative regime are competent to achieve the declared aims.
This year, 2017, has been termed ‘the year of delivery’ in relation to the Energy Union. There has been progress, and more is expected, on initiatives and legislation. However, the Commission’s legislative proposals have yet to be adopted by the European Council and Parliament, and by the member states. This is where the difficulties and delays will come in. All this needs to be achieved before the action points can be properly addressed and a Europe-wide system can be delivered to its citizens. The EU Observer offers us its usual moderate conclusion:
“…it is understandable in the light of growing euroscepticism why the commission wants to portray progress. … But it needs to tread carefully, because announcing success where there is only a theoretical success, can cause disillusionment among real citizens.”
We restate our usual conclusion: that more could be achieved by a community that wasn’t being dragooned by a fundamentalist ideology.