The European Economic and Social Committee welcomes the opportunity to provide an opinion on the Third report on State of the Energy Union by the European Commission, as it did before for the first and second reports. As expressed in previous opinions, the EESC strongly supports the idea of a European Energy Union and would like to stress that the Energy Union is not only relevant to sectoral policies such as energy, transport and climate but offers opportunities to make Europe more democratic, more cohesive, more competitive, and more just.
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The key message of the opinion is that transforming the energy system towards carbon-free, decentralised and digitalised supply offers enormous opportunities, in particular for structurally weak and rural regions in Europe. The development of renewable energy (RE) can have a major and beneficial impact on employment, and can be configured so as to provide a completely new stimulus for the regional economy. There is therefore potential for mutually reinforcing the positive effects of Europe's energy and cohesion policies. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) finds it regrettable that both the Commission and the Member States have yet to properly recognise this potential, let alone exploit it.
In November 2017, the European Commission released its third report on the State of the Energy Union. The Commission’s overall assessment of progress towards achieving the goals of the Energy Union is positive but it recognises that much still needs to be done. In particular, it promises 2018 to be a Year of Engagement, ensuring that citizens and civil society are mobilised and take full ownership of Europe’s energy transition. The EESC has previously highlighted a number of challenges in realising the Commission's vision of putting the citizen at the heart of the Energy Union and the progress made in this respect.
This public hearing therefore pursues two overarching goals, namely to hear how civil society organisations and experts assess the State of the Energy Union and to explore opportunities to improve economic and political ownership of the Energy Union by citizens and civil society.
While the environmental benefits of the transition to low-carbon energy supply systems have been widely discussed, economic effects have only been touched upon in a piecemeal fashion, e.g. through employment in the renewable energy sector, the increasing cost competitiveness of energy from renewable sources, or the rise of energy poverty. In particular, it remains unclear how the economies of Europe's diverse regions are affected by the shift to decentralised, low-carbon energy supply. As recent political initiatives in relation to coal regions and islands however show, Europe's energy transition has a distinctively regional dimension. The EESC is currently working on an own-initiative opinion on "The effects of a new carbon-free, decentralised and digitalized energy supply structure on jobs and regional economies". In this opinion, it seeks to take stock of existing economic analyses on the regional effects and develop an assessment framework.