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Green Paper on the security of energy supply
The European Commission addresses the main issues relating to Europe's ever increasing energy dependence: the challenges posed by climate change and the internal energy market, measures relating to the supply of and demand for energy resources, the role of renewable energy and nuclear energy, etc.
Commission Green Paper of 29 November 2000 Towards a European strategy for the security of energy supply [COM(2000) 769 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The European Union's (EU) external energy dependence is constantly increasing. The EU meets 50% of its energy needs through imports and, if no action is taken, this will increase to 70% by 2020 or 2030. This external dependence involves economic, social, ecological and physical risks for the EU. Energy imports account for 6% of total imports and, in geopolitical terms, 45% of oil imports come from the Middle East and 40% of natural gas imports come from Russia. The EU does not yet have all the necessary means to change the international market. This weakness was highlighted by the sharp rise in oil prices at the end of 2000.
One solution recommended by the Green Paper for tackling this problem is to draw up a strategy for security of energy supply aimed at reducing the risks linked to this external dependence.
In tackling this problem, the EU will have to face many challenges, and these must be taken into account when drawing up the strategy. The two greatest new challenges are:
- environmental concerns influencing energy choices, most significantly efforts to combat climate change;
- the development of the internal market, which has given a new place and a new role to energy demand and could lead to political tensions, e.g. falling prices could undermine efforts to combat climate change. It is up to our societies to find satisfactory compromises.
A European strategy
Nowadays, energy policy has assumed a Community dimension: Member States are interdependent, both with regard to combating climate change and in terms of the completion of the internal market. However, this has not been reflected by new Community powers. The Community is empowered to intervene in several areas, notably in the internal market, harmonisation, environment and taxation.
Nevertheless, the lack of political consensus on a Community energy policy limits the scope for action. It is worth considering whether it would be advantageous to extend Community powers with regard to energy issues to enable the EU to have more control over its energy destiny. It is not a question of proposing a complete strategy for security of supply, but rather of launching a debate on these issues.
A long-term energy strategy
According to the Green Paper, the main objective of an energy strategy should be to ensure, for the well-being of its citizens and for the proper functioning of the economy, the uninterrupted physical availability of energy products on the market at an affordable price for all consumers, whilst respecting environmental concerns and looking towards sustainable development. It is not a question of maximising energy self-sufficiency or minimising dependence, but rather of reducing the risks linked to this dependence. The energy resources that are being used right now must be taken into account in the debate. The EU relies heavily on fossil fuels such as oil (the dominant resource). This is a problem that must be addressed.
The Green Paper outlines a long-term energy strategy in which the EU is to take action in the following areas:
- Rebalancing its supply policy by taking clear action in favour of a demand policy
There is more room for manoeuvre to address demand than to increase Community supply. An attempt should be made to control the growth of demand, notably by using taxation, for example, to bring about a real change in consumer behaviour.
With regard to supply, priority should be given to combating global warming, for example by promoting new renewable energy sources, using profitable energies to finance their development.
Assessing the contribution to be made by nuclear energy in the medium term
If no action is taken, the contribution of nuclear energy will decrease still further in the future. Whilst assessing the future contribution of nuclear energy, the debate should also look at issues such as global warming, security of supply and sustainable development. Whatever conclusions are drawn, research in the area of safe management of nuclear waste must be actively pursued.
- Providing a stronger mechanism to build up strategic stocks and to secure new import routes for increasing amounts of oil and gas.