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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Speech of Vice-President Šefčovič at the Inter-Parliamentary Meeting of the European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources (EUFORES)

Copenhagen, 7 October 2016

Dear Martin (Lidegaard),

Dear Jeppe (Kofod),

Members of Parliament from across Europe, Members of EUFORES and of this distinguished house, the Folketinget,

There couldn't be a better timing for our meeting than today:

  • a week after the EU Ministers under the Slovak Presidency approved the ratification of the Paris Agreement
  • 3 days after the positive vote in the European Parliament
  • and the very same day when the ratification of this deal is celebrated at the UN headquarters in New York. Together with my colleague, Commissioner Arias Cañete and European ministers, they are celebrating, on behalf of all of us, the entry into force of the first universal climate deal which now binds all countries.

There are many conclusions that can be drawn from this success. Some people attribute it to the power of multilateralism in the 21st century and our ability to negotiate highly complex agreements through international organisations; others to the proliferation of social actors who kept this topic high on the agenda, or to the decisive role of the EU in steering, encouraging, and promoting this Agreement. But any way you look at it, this Agreement would not have been possible without the support of national parliaments across Europe who pushed for an ambitious agreement, and for Europe to pave the way.

I would therefore like to start by thanking you for your leadership, support, and proactive action. European citizens should know that this historic Agreement did not happen by itself; it happened because their elected decision-makers – notably you EUFORES Members - chose to make it a success.

This is particularly remarkable, given that until quite recently, the transition to clean and renewable energy was perceived as a marginal field, one which disrupts economic activity and therefore finds few supporters.

Societies measured themselves by their ability to produce and consume, showing little care for what they leave or do not leave behind. For so many years, it seemed as luxury rather than a necessity to discuss the quality of our air, water, or natural resources in our public discourse. There always seemed to be more important issues.

But look at us now; the transition to a green economy has been omnipresent in our diplomacy which led to the Paris Agreement, in our popular culture, in our evolving industries, led by new innovative technologies. What started as a pioneer grassroots movement has successfully won the hearts and minds of millions across the world. Companies, societies, and countries are now competing over titles like sustainable, green, or circular economies. They recognise not only the imminent danger of inaction but also the huge economic gains of investing in the emerging green industries; they encourage new sustainable business models. They see that the energy transition makes a very strong business case!

If the vision and promise of President Juncker was for Europe to be a global leader in renewables, I am proud to say that today it is. Solar power capacity in Europe, for example, is already 4 times bigger than in the US; it's almost half of the world's total. The wind power industry is growing fast, and already employs some 300,000 Europeans. Storage solutions are advancing steadily and I believe it is no coincidence that global conferences on energy storage are taking place here in Europe; it is because of the role we are playing in this field. I hear it from global players when I attend such conferences as I did in the past weeks.

So to a large extent the energy transition is no longer a vision or a dream; it is a tangible reality which is we're already living in.

But of course, that does not mean that our role has come to an end; that we can now rest on our laurels as if our job is done. Quite the contrary; with leadership comes great responsibility. Now is therefore the time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and ensure we are leading the global energy transition in the right direction.

How? By ensuring that our own policies are future-proof, that our green industries are well-positioned, that our technologies and solutions are well-deployed, that our citizens can harvest the fruits of this energy transition: from better services of digitised and electrified transport, through high quality jobs. In fact, in 2014, around 9 million jobs were already linked to the transition to a low carbon economy. A Commission study concluded that by 2030, this number could double to about 18 million jobs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As this session is about foreign policy, before I go into what we still have in the pipeline of the Energy Union, let me say a few words about why this matters so much for Europe's external relations.

As many of you know, the EU is heavily dependent on external sources of fossil energy, despite the very significant progress we have made with respect to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Coal, gas and oil together account for almost ¾ of our primary energy consumption (73%). These are not resources Europe is rich of; we import almost all our oil (87%) 2/3 of our natural gas (65%) and close to half (44%) of the solid fuels we use. And our scenarios of the future show that we will be producing less of these fossil fuels in the EU, so that the coming years we will import even a greater percentage.

The European market is therefore extremely sensitive to the global market, its prices, and equally important its stability. And we learned in recent years that these cannot be taken for granted. As a Slovak, I will never forget the winter of 2009 when our supply was entirely halted. This is a constant risk that hinders a modern economy like our own.

This reality therefore implies several policies which we are putting in place. For example:

  1. We must diversify the sources from which we buy energy. The Southern Gas Corridor is an excellent example to a new source of energy which will bring gas from the Caspian Sea into Europe as of 2019. LNG also has a great promise as we see new sources delivering to our continent.
  2. A well-functioning internal energy market can compensate for our vulnerability on the global energy market. This is true for negotiating better prices but also for relying more on each other to offset fluctuations in our supply and demand. Of course this also implies great deal of work on connecting our national infrastructures and harmonising our legislations.
  3. Energy efficiency offers tremendous potential for reducing our dependency on foreign resources, reducing our energy spending, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Last but certainly not least, renewables! Europe is not rich in gas but it is rich in renewables. Not only Europe, the world is rich in renewables. But here in Europe we are advancing in our ability to capture, store, transmit and distribute our renewable energy.

And when it comes to such innovative green technologies, we suddenly change roles; instead of being importers we can actually export our experience, expertise, and know-how! We can support the efforts of developing countries to connect parts of their populations who are energy-deprived, and we can help others make the transition. So it's a triple win for our industry, for our foreign relations, and for the environment!

So how are we getting there?

As you know, 2016 has been the Year of Delivery for the Energy Union; by the end of this year we will have presented the vast majority of our initiatives. For example:

In February we presented the Security of Supply package. Once adopted, it will make a real difference for energy consumers, notably those in the most vulnerable Member States.

In July, we adopted two proposals and a strategy which key to achieve the EU's commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change:

o   the Effort Sharing Regulation setting the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for Member States for 2030;

o   a proposal on addressing emissions from Land use, land-use change and forestry (what our experts call LULUCF);

o   a strategy on low-emission mobility setting the course of action for low and zero-emission vehicles and alternative low-emissions fuels.

A few weeks ago, in his State of the Union speech, President Juncker announced the expansion of the European Investment Project. This is excellent news for the Energy Union, given that most of the projects so far are related to energy, transport, and environmental protection. This expansion is both in terms of the amount which will be dedicated (now aiming at half a trillion euros) but also in geographic terms; now opening for investment in the rest of the world. I personally saw its impact on some excellent projects here in Europe.

The next steps will focus on Energy Efficiency, including the revision and update of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) with the aim of updating the existing energy efficiency policy and legal framework to reflect the new energy efficiency target for 2030.

Along with the Energy Efficiency package, we will also present measures on Renewable Energy, Market Design and Governance of the Energy Union.

The Market Design Initiative aims to provide a truly European dimension to security of supply; give clear price signals facilitating the continuing penetration of renewables and investment; and promote regional cooperation on energy policies and support schemes to renewables.

The Renewable Energy Directive and the Governance mechanism would therefore establish a robust legal framework for achieving the EU 2030 renewable target in a cost-effective way.

This revision aims to further promote market integration of renewable energy across the system; empower consumers to generate, self-consume and store renewable electricity in a cost effective way; and cut administrative red-tape. This includes streamlining permitting processes particularly for small scale projects.

Finally, the legislation on Energy Union Governance will stipulate the essential requirements from Member States to ensure clarity, coherence, and proper implementation.

As you can see, the year of 2016 has been and will continue to be a very busy one for the Energy Union. We will conclude it with the second edition of the State of the Energy Union, when we will take stock of progress made since the last one, including country specific observations and set out some of the priorities for next year.

While most of these initiatives focus on the internal dimension of EU energy policy, they are direct linked to the external one – due to the interplay between internal energy production and demand and our dependency of energy imports, which I mentioned earlier.

But it's not only about our own internal legislation. Another impact on our external dimension is our close partnership with our eastern neighbours in the Energy Community, and the fact that many of the standards and regulations that we adopt in Europe are then picked up by other countries both in our region and other parts of the world.

Australia and New Zealand are looking into following our energy efficiency regulation; the US is looking into our compressors standards, Korean authorities would like to use our legislation on tyre noise. And I haven't even mentioned emissions allowances markets which are inspired or closely linked to our own ETS. So even before a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement is signed with the US or with Canada, EU legislation is already setting global standards across many fields.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I conclude let me reiterate once more the critical role of national parliaments in turning from proposals to binding legislation.

Many of our proposals will be in the form of Directives, which will have to be transposed by national parliaments. I am therefore counting on you for ensuring that the national legislation - as well as the debates that lead to them - will be coherent with our community law. Adapting the Directives to your national context and preferences will be critical for ensuring they enjoy public support. And this, no one can do better than you!

Our new Energy Union Governance will encourage an active role of national Parliaments also in the strategic discussions around the national energy and climate plans. Aiming at cross-party and wide public support will be essential to ensure stability of these plans and to improve their political legitimacy.

If you allow me, I will stop here, thanking you for your attention, but more importantly: for making Europe's energy transitions a reality in your countries.


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