Energy – EESC warns against creating new dependencies

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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) takes a firm stand on energy in an opinion adopted at its September plenary: the Commission's proposal is a step in the right direction to guarantee the EU's energy independence from Russia, but these emergency measures should not create new dependencies or harm the efforts to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.

The EESC throws its support behind the European Commission's REPowerEU Plan to make the EU independent from Russian gas and oil supply, but points out that many issues which are being addressed urgently at the moment could have been avoided or at least limited if the dependency on energy imports had been reduced years ago and the energy market had been completed, as the EESC has been calling for for years.

A stress test for European democracy and values

In the opinion adopted at the September plenary session and drafted by Stefan Back, Thomas Kattnig and Lutz Ribbe, the Committee's position leaves no doubt: the combined economic and social effects of the current crisis are putting the EU's democratic system under strain unless adequate solutions are found. Immediate measures must be implemented to ensure security of supply at a cost that is "as affordable as possible" for both consumers and industry, which are affected by the current price crisis, lest social unrest start to arise.

At the moment, European society is unduly affected by dramatic price increases. According to the EESC, most politicians and large parts of our society have been blinded by cheap fossil fuel supplies and failed to pursue any precautionary policies and the current situation is the fallout from this negligence.

The Committee regrets that it has taken the war in Ukraine and the ensuing distortions in Russian energy delivery to bring attention to this basic energy security issue and trigger the measures proposed in the REPowerEU Plan to ensure independence from import of Russian energy.

On this matter, the EESC recalls the statements in the 2014 EU Energy Security Strategy and the 2015 Energy Union Strategy (TEN/570 – The Energy Union strategic framework) that the EU remains vulnerable to external energy shocks and calling on policy makers at national and EU level to make clear to citizens the choices involved in reducing our dependency on particular fuels, energy suppliers and routes.

The way ahead: increasing energy efficiency and the share of renewables in the energy mix

The European Commission's REPowerEU Plan is a step in the right direction to make the EU independent from Russian gas and oil supply.

Its approach is based on the distinction between short- and medium-long-term measures and on four main pillars: energy saving, diversifying gas imports, replacing fossil fuels by accelerating renewables and financing solutions.

Nonetheless, the EESC warns that these emergency measures must not lead to new dependencies and should not harm the efforts to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible. The Commission should develop a geopolitical energy import strategy, which also takes into account urgent energy and climate issues, before concluding partnerships with non-democratic or politically unstable countries.

The Committee underlines that the urgency of the supply situation requires flexibility regarding temporary use of fossil and low emission fuels.

In particular, the EESC supports:

- the proposal to increase the energy efficiency target from 9% as proposed in the Fit for 55 package to 14% by 2030;

- an increase in the share of renewables in the EU energy mix, strongly backing the Commission's request to include the 45% share that was proposed in the REPowerEU Plan in the Fit for 55 package;

- the proposals regarding rapid permitting procedures for renewables projects and the definition of "go-to areas" for such projects.

In previous opinions, the Committee had already addressed the measures taken to mitigate the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the energy crisis and is now continuing to work further on preparing recommendations the achieve the energy transition:

TEN/778 – REPowerEU: Joint European Action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy

TEN/779 – EU gas storage policy

TEN/780 – Security of supply and affordable energy prices

TEN/783 – Accelerating renewables roll out

TEN/784 – Energy markets

TEN/770 – A strategic vision on energy transition to enable the EU's strategic autonomy

TEN/771 – Public investment in energy infrastructure as part of the solution to climate issues

Background – The risk of energy dependency

The EESC has been warning against the risk associated with energy dependency in several opinions:

TEN/767 – State of the Energy Union 2021

TEN/761 – Energy prices

TEN/760 – What conditions are needed for the energy and low-carbon transition to be socially acceptable?

TEN/732 – Revision of the TEN-E Regulation guidelines

TEN/724 – State of the Energy Union Report 2020 and Assessment of National Energy and Climate Plans

TEN/717 – EU Strategy for Energy System Integration

TEN/657 – Third report on the State of the Energy Union

TEN/623 – Energy prices and costs

TEN/626 – State of the Energy Union

For further information, please consult the energy section of the web pages of the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN).

See also