The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) addresses the state of play of the Energy Union and the national energy and climate plans, warning that the 2050 EU energy and climate objectives can only be reached with a change of pace in the transition and that citizens must really be put at the heart of the process.
The pace of transformation needs to be significantly stepped up if we are to meet the 2050 EU energy and climate objectives, but the social and economic situation in the individual Member States should not be overlooked in the process, as this could jeopardise social acceptance of investment and reforms aimed at accelerating the energy transition.
In an opinion drafted by Lutz Ribbe and adopted at the March plenary session, the EESC sets out its position on the 2020 reports on the State of the Energy Union and the Assessment of National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), saying that, although the energy and climate objectives for 2020 have largely been met, this should not lead to complacency.
The objectives for the next 30 years, starting with the 2020s, must be much more ambitious and really put EU's people at the core of the Energy Union. Speaking on the sidelines of the plenary, Mr Ribbe said:
Energy transition is at risk if politicians promise participation for broad swathes of society, but in reality do not take that promise seriously and do not put it into practice.
EU citizens at the heart of the Energy Union
According to the Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union, the most important objective is putting citizens at the core of the Energy Union. However, in its 2020 State of the Energy Union report, the European Commission makes no mention of the extent to which this objective is being achieved or of what strategies it will adopt to meet it in the future. This is completely unacceptable to the EESC.
In addition, the Commission says that insufficient attention is paid to the development of community energy in the Member States' NECPs. This is worrying and it is disappointing that the Commission's only response to this is a very general appeal to Member States. If ambitious objectives are not seriously adhered to, it will not only be detrimental to the Energy Union – the credibility of EU policy as a whole is at stake.
For this reason, the EESC believes that, in future reports, the Commission should analyse more carefully the level and quality of implementation, compliance and enforcement of the energy package in the Member States, highlighting in particular how they intend to put "citizens at the core". In the past, the implementation of energy regulations was often delayed, without bringing about benefits for citizens.
The Energy Union needs to step up progress
The Committee also points out that three other objectives of the Energy Union have all been missed. Progress has so far not been made in reducing energy dependency by cutting down energy imports, eliminating subsidies for energy sources harmful to the climate and environment, and taking a leading role in renewable energy, energy efficiency and electro-mobility.
A critical view should be taken in this respect, as the reasons for these failures are not discussed. Likewise, no mention is made of the lessons to be drawn and of what the next steps could be, with reference for example to the Recovery Fund.
Current state of play
The 2020 report on the State of the Energy Union showcases the state of play of the clean energy transition in the EU and the Member States. It was published by the European Commission in October 2020 in light of the EU's renewed ambition in the European Green Deal and is accompanied by thematic reports, including country-specific guidance for Member States on implementation of the NECPs.
In September 2020, the Commission also adopted a report on the EU-wide assessment of the 27 NECPs submitted by Member States, containing an integrated vision of the energy and climate transition for the next ten years.
The Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy was put forward by the Commission in February 2015, with the goal of achieving energy security, a fully integrated European energy market, and a sustainable, low-carbon and climate-friendly economy.
The Strategy was striving for "an Energy Union with citizens at its core, where citizens take ownership of the energy transition, benefit from new technologies to reduce their bills, participate actively in the market, and where vulnerable consumers are protected."