Opening up the energy market and increasing competiveness can only be achieved if the EU places consumers and local government at the centre of its plans. Through the unanimous adoption of an opinion presented by P.G. de Vey Mestdagh (NL/ALDE), the Committee of the Regions expressed support in creating a more competitive and integrated European energy network. However, the Committee calls for a far greater support for new energy companies and better protection of consumers. Investing in smart grids, it argues, can be an important part of the solution helping empower consumers, drive competition and create a "more integrated, competitive and flexible" energy market.
The Committee supports the liberalisation of the EU's energy market which it views as being an important driver in creating a sustainable more competitive energy sector. However, through the opinion on the internal energy market led by Mr. de Vey Mestdagh, Member of the Executive Council of the Province of Groningen, the Committee warns that many Member States had yet to implement measures set out in the EU's Third Energy Package agreed in 2009. This was restricting market access for new energy companies and consequently undermining competition and keeping energy costs high. The Committee points to the growth in "prosumers" – consumers as producers – and calls for more investment and support to be made available for small-scale energy production and regional grid infrastructure, a position that has already been taken up by the European Parliament at Committee level. This would enable smaller producers to compete and counteract market monopolisation. Mr. de Vey Mestdagh added that, "The important role of regions and municipalities in terms of coordinating local energy development and micro generation cannot be ignored. Quite simply, local and regional authorities can make Europe's energy market work".
The Committee argues that broadening consumer choice is crucial to increasing competition among energy providers. Mr. de Vey Mestdagh's opinion also questions whether the European Commission proposals sufficiently empower consumers, address energy poverty and protect vulnerable consumers. Local and regional authorities must be far more involved given their responsibility for supporting citizens, communicating with consumers and carrying out planning for the grid development including smart grids on an equal footing with companies and with equal access to data. They can, the opinion argues, also support putting measures in place on important consumer-related issues such as access to information, possibilities for price comparisons and providing support for vulnerable consumers.
Smart metering systems are also a good way to enable consumers to better manage costs, provided that they have access to data on their own consumption. To achieve this the Committee argues that existing grids must be modernised and smart grids further developed, objectives that are in line with the Europe 2020 targets on energy efficiency and the EU's 2050 energy decarbonisation plans. It therefore supports cooperation in the development of smart grids at European, national and regional level, and calls for the development of European standards for smart grids. This perspective was shared with the European Parliament whose Industry, Research and Energy Committee has incorporated it into their proposals. Mr. de Vey Mestdagh's said, "I am very pleased that at this early stage two of the European Parliament's committees have already endorsed several of our amendments concerning the role of regional and local governments. It just goes to show the importance of having constructive dialogue with all institutions right from the beginning of the legislative process".
The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives from all 28 Member States. Its mission is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law infringes the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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