Energy is one of the most important basic requirements of human society. We need energy not only to drive developments in the economic sphere – in, for instance, agriculture or the production of goods – but also for the apparently little things in everyday life, from heating to cooking to charging our smartphones. Without energy, we would be in a very literal sense fairly powerless!
European integration has been shaped by energy issues from the very beginning. The process of unifying Europe after the Second World War started with cooperation in the energy sector, when Robert Schuman proposed in May 1950 that different countries should pool their production of coal and steel.
That laid the foundations for a common European market for coal and steel. The European Coal and Steel Community was the seed from which European team work in many other policy areas grew. It is a fine example of the way cooperation which at first comes out of economic motives can in the longer term also lead to closer integration at the political and social level.
While coal was a major factor in the post-war economy, Germany has moved on in matters of energy supply. These days, we are the land of the Energiewende.This paradigm shift in the energy sector consists of many little puzzle pieces, including expansion of renewables, development of the electricity market, promotion of energy efficiency, expansion of the grid and increasing digitisation.
We have achieved a lot in Germany since deciding to phase out nuclear power. More than 30% of our electrical power is now generated from renewable sources. We intend to make it even more.
But the Energiewende means more to us than simply a shift in the make-up of the energy mix. We see it as a change in consumer behaviour that brings a lot of new opportunities and possibilities: more jobs, more high-tech industry and, not least, a cleaner environment to benefit us all.
As energy demand rises, however, we are not going to be able to switch completely to renewable energy in the medium term. We are therefore continuing to use conventional energy sources for the time being. When you consider that Germany has to import more than 95% of its oil and around 90% of its natural gas, it is clear that the key to secure energy supplies is diversification of suppliers and supply routes.
This means, for example, that Russia will continue to play an important role on the supply side of the gas sector. Our assumption in Germany is that we will continue to need Russian gas in the medium term. That said, we are also aware of our European partners’ political concerns, and we take those concerns seriously. Safeguarding the gas transit route through Ukraine for the long term and expanding cooperation with other suppliers are therefore important priorities for us.
Ladies and gentlemen,
One means of achieving greater energy security is more Europe. In its recent history, Europe has successfully mastered crises by moving closer together when the going got tough. It is particularly in times of crisis that we need more Union in our Europe, as Commission President Juncker quite rightly said.
That is part of the reason why “energy union” is such a key term. The energy union is the EU countries’ most important joint project if they are to pull together on energy policy. Creating an energy union comprising 28 countries, including some of the largest economies in the world, is certainly an ambitious project.
But, especially at a time when ever more people are questioning the value and the point of Europe, the energy union provides a major chance to make Europe stronger.
Our work in the energy sector has the potential not only to advance European integration but also to generate tangible benefits for the people of Europe.
In many ways, the obstacles we will have to overcome to make the energy union a reality give us an indication of the future of cooperation in Europe. I want to talk briefly about four aspects, namely the common internal energy market, governance of the energy union, the role of energy-related foreign policy and the development of infrastructure.
Firstly, the pivotal element of the energy union is completion of the common internal energy market. Supranational markets are the best way of ensuring security of electricity and gas supplies. By focusing more strongly on renewables and energy efficiency, we are also creating incentives for innovation and enhanced technology and thereby laying the foundations for more growth.
Secondly, we will need an effective and reliable control mechanism if we are to meet the shared objectives of the energy union such as the massive reduction in CO2 emissions. This doesn’t mean individual member states having to give up their right to decide on their own energy mix. It means establishing a robust framework to govern the energy union which is binding for all EU countries.
Thirdly, the energy union is supposed to make Europe safer. It will help reduce the risk of conflict in the field of energy. We are putting our faith in greater regional cooperation rather than in cutting ourselves off from particular neighbours or suppliers. This will involve presenting a more united front and speaking with one voice. Strong common energy-related foreign policy is the best means of positioning Europe as a strong player in the global energy-policy arena and advancing our common objectives in the energy sphere.
Fourthly, infrastructure plays an important role too. It is clear that a common energy market can only become a reality if the relevant cables and connections exist between the member states. We are going to need more investment in reliable and extensive grids, especially given our increased focus on renewable energy, which is often only available regionally or in fluctuating quantities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The times in which we are living present a broad range of tests for Europe. The refugee situation, the economic and financial crisis, high youth unemployment and not least the Brexit referendum in the UK have played their part in opening up fundamental questions about the future of the EU. The best remedy for such fears and doubts about the value of the European Union is to present substantial arguments.
The energy union is an opportunity for “more Europe” to provide practical solutions which benefit everyone. The first steps in this direction have already been taken, as Maroš Šefčovič outlined so clearly this morning.
However, energy matters are of course complex and complicated. The member states preside over very heterogeneous resources and have made varying levels of progress on cutting emissions, while their essential infrastructure is in need of investment to differing degrees.
But if we look at the objectives of the energy union, the benefits of closer cooperation are obvious. Energy is vital, and Europe will help provide safe, sustainable and affordable energy for everyone.
In the ever more globalised world of the 21st century, energy policy has to be thought about as a joint endeavour.
Stronger cross-border cooperation is the only way to make Europe less energy dependent, generate more predictability for investors and create jobs and growth for the long term.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I said at the start that common energy policy harks back to Europe’s beginnings. We have come a long way since the European Coal and Steel Community was founded. Seventy years of peace, democracy and freedom in the European Union are absolutely not to be taken for granted.
Now, however, we need to mark out our route for the future. There is a lot of potential in common energy policy. If we want a sustainable, forward-looking energy supply, only innovation and enhanced technology in the renewables sector will make that possible long term.
And so we have Europe showing itself from its best side once again: collaboration originally based on cost-benefit considerations and stronger economic cooperation generates an incentive for more research and innovation – a foundation on which to build more growth and a brighter future.
On that note, let me wish you all a lot of energy for the exciting and informative discussion to come!