Recent Advancements in European Union Energy Policy and Governance


Recent Advancements in European Union Energy Policy and Governance

Thomas PELLERIN-CARLIN, Course Advisor and trainer of our Executive Education course “EU Energy Policy – The European Green Deal in times of Crisis” shares insights into the latest developments in EU energy policy and governance, while also highlighting his contributions to the recent summer courses (in particular the EU Energy Policy course and the Intensive Seminar on the EU).

How are the upcoming European Parliament elections likely to affect EU energy policy?

The 06-09 June 2024 European Parliament elections will be crucial for the future of the EU energy policy. Every five years, citizens determine the composition of the European Parliament and thus have a direct impact on future EU policies. The last elections in 2019 were marked by a historic citizen concern on climate change. This support of millions of EU citizens for further climate action was a key message that new Parliamentarians and Commissioners heard loud and clear. The last EU elections indeed played a major role in the birth of the European Green Deal, this EU whole-of-government approach to transform our economy and tackle climate change. It led to major policy decisions that shape Europe’s energy present and future: a massive scale-up of wind and solar power production, the shift from petrol to electric cars, and a new hope for hydrogen as one key way to decarbonise specific sectors.

In 2023 and 2024, the situation differs. European companies and families experienced an oil and gas price shock in 2021 and 2022, which triggered many debates and policies. Politicians in Brussels and national capitals still talk about climate, but may be more concerned by other topics, such as energy security, defence or migration. EU citizens, at least those polled in the latest Eurobarometer, however clearly consider that climate change should be, alongside fighting poverty and supporting the economy, one of the Top 3 priorities for the European Parliament. And for many, climate change is no longer a future prospect but a harsh reality with droughts, heatwaves and forest fires that have hit Europe in the summer of 2023.

It is still too soon to see how the EU elections will impact the EU energy policy, but it is clear that they will be a major moment in the EU democratic process.  

What are the main developments in EU energy policy in the coming year?

In the last two years, EU policy makers in Brussels have been negotiating and adopting a wide range of measures grouped together in the so-called “fit for 55 package”. Once finalised, all those rules will take years to be implemented in national legislation, technical codes, but also economic and physical transformations in the world that surrounds us. Implementation truly is the moment when the rubber hits the road. One key concern therefore is: “what are the new policies the EU can adopt to support the implementation of the fit for 55 package by Member States, households and industries”? More and more voices are now calling for an EU Climate Investment Plan, to ensure the EU tangibly supports the economic actors who will have to invest to implement the fit for 55, in the spirit of the Green Deal.

For instance, the EU decided to create a new carbon market to increase the cost of pollution of, for instance, heating one’s home with fossil gas. The spirit of this legislation is to provide a new incentive for households to invest in the renovation of their homes and/or install a cleaner heating system (such as a heat pump or a solar heating system). 1 question is, will this new carbon market be enough? How much public money should be available to support families to invest in the renovation of their homes, and where should that money come from? There is still a lot to do for the EU to tackle the climate investment challenge, which is critical to ensure the smooth implementation of the EU energy law.

Last but not least, there is a rising geopolitical challenge. We are at this moment in the transition where the geopolitics of the old fossil fuel world still matter -as we saw with the energy impacts of Vladimir Putin’s choice to restrict Russian gas exports to the EU. We are also at that moment when the geopolitics of the new world of clean technologies and critical metals matter. And here, there are still a lot of low hanging fruits that have not been picked up yet. For instance, the EU could do much more to establish deeper partnerships with Chile, Bolivia and Argentina that are countries rich in lithium, to see how a win-win partnership can be established between South-American and European democracies who all have a shared interest in a global economy based on the rule of law. Such partnerships of course concern Governments, but also research centres, businesses, NGOs and students.

How can the College of Europe Summer Courses help in understanding and adapting to these policy changes?

The College of Europe offers a unique opportunity to get a 360° approach to the EU energy policy in a single week. For energy professionals, it provides a helicopter vision that allows them to better understand the entire EU energy system and policy -and thus better grasp how their own work is articulated with the other components of the system. For energy newcomers, it is an overview that provides them with the fundamental notions that are required to understand how the EU tries, succeeds or fails, to transform the world we live in.

Throughout the week, participants discover different facets of the EU energy policy. On Monday, they get a first overview of the EU energy policy, its legal basis and key governance mechanisms. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we take time to dig into more depth in critical challenges: how do we ensure the energy security of the Continent? How does the EU-wide carbon price work? How can we improve energy efficiency? On Thursday, the College bring the participants to Brussels, so they can directly interact with the actual EU energy policy makers from the Commission, the Member States and Parliament. Finally on Friday, we look at cross-cutting challenges, such as the investment challenge or the point of view of an energy utility on the impact of the EU policy on its business. And finally, we reach a first conclusion of a fruitful week, with an open discussion with the participants.

What were the key takeaways that participants gained from this summer courses, and how do you see this knowledge being applied in real-world contexts?

The biggest takeaway participants gain is this 360° perspective on the EU energy policy. This reminds me of the Ancient Greek poet Archilochus’ fragment on “the hedgehog and the fox”. The hedgehog is someone who only knows one big thing, while the fox knows many things. And when it comes to anticipating the future, humans who behave like foxes perform better. They understand many things and thus become more agile, creative, ready to adapt to an ever-changing reality. This is what this summer course is trying to achieve: by looking at the EU energy policy through all its key facets (historical, governance, climate, security, financing etc.), this course makes its participants better equipped to anticipate the future evolutions of the energy world.

What were some of your personal highlights from the summer courses? What aspects of the discussions or participant interactions stood out to you?

A big part of these summer courses is the diversity of its participants, and the quality of the discussion they bring throughout the week. Beyond the national diversity that is inherent to the College of Europe’s activities, we have participants that come with very diverse views and backgrounds. There are few places where you can have a sincere, informed and respectful discussion between someone working for a fossil fuel company, a climate activist, an electricity transportation engineer, and a newly elected MEP who is a full novice to energy policy. Even as a trainer, I am challenged every year by the participants’ questions, comments and viewpoints, that lead all of us to ask ourselves new questions and consider new solutions to current and future problems.