What’s EUp in November 2017?

By Alix Bolle on 8 novembre 2017

Ambitious proposals for reviving the European project have been hitting the headlines over the past few weeks. The first that come to mind are of course those presented by the French President (click here to read our overview), and also the famous “State of the Union” speech of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, to which we reacted in the press. Among these broad project outlines, Emmanuel Macron’s proposal of setting up “transition contracts” specifically caught our attention.

At a time when the European executive is about to specify the contours of its financial framework for 2021-2027, the first with no British contribution, we believe that now is the moment to rethink the European economy based on a truly societal project. Although the details of this proposal remain fuzzy, the words used are highly significant. For us, the term “contract” must not only evoke the new opportunities that will be offered to those areas and workers most affected by the shift away from a carbon-based economy (so-called “industrial desolation territories” by the French government) but also the wider-ranging partnerships, both in scope and scale, that will have to be stricken between and within territories, between urban and rural areas, between cities and regions, between national and local governments, so as to create truly local alliances.

The term ”transition” must also be understood in its wider meaning, and not just as the conversion to a new energy system. What is at stake is the complete overhaul of our economic model, from an extractive to a redistributive rationale.

What about the 3Ds ?

In the midst of a “tsunami” – to borrow the expression used by MEPs – of legislative proposals for clean energy, the European parliament and the Council must decide by the end of the year on the governance of the 2030 national climate and energy plans and 2050 strategies, in other words on the way the Commission intends to ensure that the Union remains on track to meet its Paris commitments. So far, the discussions have been limited to monitoring and verification procedures between Brussels and the Member States. But shouldn’t energy “governance” be about linking local, regional and national policies instead, as well as combining citizens’ aspirations with socio-economic imperatives ?

This was in fact the message delivered by Stephan Brandligt, deputy mayor of Delft and a member of our Board of Directors, at the official launch of the European Renewables Networking Platform, a project co-piloted by Energy Cities. Indeed, the Dutch experience could be used as a model to implement the proposal from MEPs Claude Turmes and Michèle Rivasi to create Multilevel Energy and Climate Dialogue Platforms aimed at co-designing national plans with civil society and the various government levels. “In the Netherlands, we will now have a multilevel and multi-stakeholder agreement”, Stephan said. “Last week, a new government took office and we are going to introduce more synergies with the implementation of an energy and climate agreement that will give more powers to local authorities, especially as regards energy infrastructure”. The alignment between national and local policies is therefore well underway in this small gas-producing country that has just adopted an ambitious strategy to phase out fossil energy (see our analysis on our blog).

With regard to the democratisation of the energy system and the role of new players, these issues are addressed in the proposals for the renewable energy directive and the electricity market. In November last year, the European Commission made a historic proposal to recognise the role of “energy communities” in the EU energy legislation, inviting Member States to develop favourable legislative and regulatory frameworks to help these new players increase their market share. Almost one year later, we review the situation here.

As regards divestment, there is vigorous debate in the Council about whether to stop subsidising the most polluting industries. The ETS negotiation process ground two week ago when the Estonian Presidency refused to grant the European Parliament’s request of introducing an emissions performance standard that would exclude coal-fired stations from the Modernisation Fund. However, ironically enough the primary aim of this fund is precisely to help those countries most affected by the transition to adopt low-carbon technologies. Last year, we published our own vision of what this Fund should be used for.
In parallel, the reform of the electricity market is leading to the same struggle : the European Commission suggested applying a performance standard aimed at excluding some power stations from the capacity mechanisms allowing fossil energy to be subsidised for energy security reasons. Once again, despite a higher tolerance threshold (550g CO2/KWh against 450g for the ETS) the Estonian Presidency is apparently yielding to the pressure of countries like Poland, which announced a few days ago that the share of coal in its energy mix by 2050 would not drop below… 50%.

And more proof, if it were needed, that we still have a long way to go on the divestment issue is the report published by the CAN Europe NGO. According to this report, 112 billion euros are spent by the EU and European countries every year on subsidising fossil energy.

But since it’s only Tuesday and we do not want to get you down at the beginning of the week, we invite you to reread this article with plenty of good news from Paris, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Slovenia !

Locally yours,

Alix Bolle

Copyright photo : Berlaymont European Commission Audiovisual Service

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