Energy solidarity: cohesive force or structural weakness?

By Sami Andoura


Sami Andoura, Professor and Chairholder of the ALCOA Chair of European Energy Policy at the College of Europe and expert in EU Energy Policy and EU External Action, writes, in this edition of our newsletter, about ‘Energy Solidarity’. Is Energy a weakness of the EU? In a context where energy has moved to the centre stage of EU policy-making, the College of Europe launched, in October 2013 and thanks to the support of the ALCOA Foundation, the Chair of European Energy Policy. Learn more about this interesting topic in the article.

European energy policy, like a European Energy Community, includes three major components: competition that stimulates, cooperation that reinforces and solidarity thatunites.

The European Union is struggling to develop a Common Energy Policy. It is facing huge challenges in this respect, both within and outside its borders. The EU’s security of supply is again questioned by the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine. And the EU is again discussing its energy future, through the adoption of a new Energy and Climate Package towards 2030. In this context, it is worth examining what energy solidarity means, and what can it bring concretely when addressing these challenges in the field of energy.

Gradual but real increase in energy solidarity in Europe

In a European energy history long marked by national independence and sovereignty, the principle of energy solidarity has become progressively a tangible reality, raised at the level of fundamental principle in European treaties.

It took the number of threats and failures, including gas crises between Russia and Ukraine, for the EU and its Member States advancing on the path of energy solidarity. The EU secured progress on the issue of energy solidarity by launching common initiatives in key areas such as: Internal security of supply for gas; progressive integration of national energy networks; diversification of energy sources and resources, etc. European institutions increasingly mention energy solidarity in their Strategies and Communications. Energy solidarity is also essentially based on key market mechanisms. It is the market and private industry, flanked by European rules, which often guarantee secure supply, preventing and managing potential crises, creating a de facto solidarity.

Missing elements of EU energy solidarity within the EU

While these progresses are beneficial, they mainly consist in individual initiatives, which cannot yet be regarded as an overall strategy. Energy solidarity has not been subject of any common European definition. Mostly identified with the issue of energy infrastructure, it is still often discussed incidentally to the general rules and developed at the technical level.

Significant gaps in the EU energy policy remain in terms of solidarity: Electricity supply security is the weakest element of the European energy system; Solidarity is not sufficiently integrated in bi-or multilateral energy instruments with external supplier and transit countries; the required economic and financial solidarity for the impetus for major infrastructures of European interest remains limited; Energy poverty is a growing European phenomenon, etc.

There are political, economic and social factors which hinder a truly shared European approach to this multifaceted issue. Foremost are differences across the community of nations that is Europe, reinforced since 2004. Differences in culture, history and energy policy among Member States, where technical, industrial and technological conditions differ, still lead to conflicting outlooks from governments on its meaning and the mechanisms for its implementation. These different approaches perceive energy solidarity as: a bond of charity, financial transfers from the "rich" to the "poor", accountability of some "free riders", reciprocity, collective insurance against risks, pooling of strengths and weaknesses in the international arena, social and interpersonal approach to energy, etc.

Core principles and vectors of European energy solidarity in the future

When the EU will be able to move on its own initiative, anticipating the future, and make decisions driven by the benefit of a collective approach, based on interdependence and solidarity of all Member States? It is essential that EU energy solidarity consistently involves these major components:

  • Completion of the internal gas and electricity markets, which create a de facto solidarity through the liquidity of energy flows in Europe.
  • Security of supply through physical infrastructures based on the need to integrate national energy networks as well as to improve complementarities of national energy mixes, thus creating de facto solidarity.
  • Optimising the use of energy resources in the EU in the context of energy transition(s), through promotion of low-carbon energy sources and the essential energy infrastructures for their development.
  • Strong political will and collective leadership of Member States based on extensive cooperation in critical areas such as security of internal supply, external dimension of EU energy policy, resource optimization and innovation, access of all to affordable energy and the fight against fuel poverty, energy transition and its financing, etc.
  • Reflecting different levels of development of Member States and their specific difficulties in delivering on European energy targets by 2020.

A necessary subtle and complex balance between these aspects is again at the heart of negotiations between the EU and its Member States over the European energy system post 2020.

Conclusion – Energy policy in the EU’s positive agenda

EU energy policy cannot be limited to the issue of solidarity. European energy policy, like a European Energy Community, includes three major components: competition that stimulates, cooperation that reinforces and solidarity that unites. Its development must be based on these three pillars which are at the basis of the successful experience of establishing a single European market for goods services and so on.

In conclusion, the EU remains above all a political construction which should address its citizens’ concerns. They are calling for a European energy project that meets their fears, aspirations and needs. European elections are scheduled for May 2014 and the EU should be able to promote a “positive agenda” that is based on a few concrete policies and projects. Energy should be on that agenda. Energy solidarity between people, countries, regions and operators in Europe is at the heart of this challenge.

By Professor Sami Andoura, Former Chairholder ALCOA Chair of European Energy Policy, College of Europe.