For most of the EU’s history there has been no unified energy policy but new challenges have forced the EU to try and develop one. Dependence on energy imports is a pressing issue with the EU importing over half its energy. Other issues include fuel scarcity, which leads to higher prices, and Europe’s continued use of fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming. The Lisbon Treaty (2007) marked the beginning of a more united European energy policy. This more united strategy has invested in efficient energy, built new pipelines and set climate change targets.
How does European energy policy work?
The EU’s energy policies have three main objectives: to ensure secure electricity and fuel supplies; to make energy more affordable for homes, businesses, and industries; and to ensure energy consumption is more sustainable by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and fossil fuel dependence.
The 2014 European energy security strategy tries to ensure a stable supply of electricity and fuel for European citizens. As part of the strategy, all EU countries simulated a complete halt of Russian gas imports to the EU. This would have a substantial impact on the EU. The EU is trying to tackle this issue by finding energy from different regions, building missing infrastructure links to quickly respond to supply disruptions and using existing storage facilities more efficiently.
The internal energy market is a set of EU policies. It is trying to create a more unified energy market that spans the entire EU. The policy tries to make energy more affordable for consumers. It works by building new pipelines and power lines across borders to develop networks for gas and electricity. It also creates common rules for energy suppliers. These suppliers can freely compete and provide the best energy prices. Whilst not complete, integration has achieved results with electricity prices declining by one-third between 2008-12.
The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers jointly adopt European energy legislation, except for legislation on nuclear power and energy taxation which the Council of Minsters adopts on its own. National governments are involved at an early stage of writing European law via national experts and committees. Because member states have different energy needs, negotiating can be difficult. One example is the Nabucco pipeline, which tried to limit Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. The project was scrapped in 2013 due to a lack of support from some member states. Russia is likely to remain Europe’s chief natural gas supplier through the 2020s.
The European Coal & Steel Community (ECSC), created in 1951, and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM), created six years later, tried to establish European cooperation over coal, steel and nuclear energy. Whilst these institutions encouraged cooperation, no common energy policy was achieved because member states were against giving up sovereignty.
The 1973 oil crisis, which caused a surge in oil prices, created the need for a coordinated European energy strategy. It showed how dependent some European countries were on oil supplies outside Europe. The importance of energy security was highlighted again when Russia stopped the flow of gas into Ukraine in 2009 and Belarus in 2010, significantly reducing the gas supply to 18 EU states.
The Lisbon Treaty (2007) marked the beginning of a more united European energy policy. It laid out Europe’s key energy objectives and declared energy policy an area of shared competence, in which both the EU and member states are able to legislate. The European energy union was created in February 2015. The project aims to coordinate EU energy policy further, find more solutions to the three main objectives of European energy policy, and allow the free flow of energy across the EU.