Towards a European Energy Community

At its session on 18 January 2012, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) adopted – by 183 votes for, 2 against and 8 abstentions – an own-initiative opinion – rapporteur Pierre-Jean Coulon – supporting the principle of establishing a European Energy Community. Almost two years ago, the “Notre Europe” think tank, presided over by its founder, Jacques Delors, presented a policy proposal entitled “Towards a European Energy Community”. Initially, this was met with scepticism and reticence from the European Parliament and European Commission which, along with the EU Member States, were tying themselves in institutional knots following the refusal by France and the Netherlands to ratify the draft European constitution, a situation compounded by the problems stirred up by the adoption of the substitute Lisbon Treaty. 

EESC Conference on a European Energy Community

Hot on the heels of its almost unanimous vote in favour of the establishment of a European Energy Community, on 31 January last the EESC organised a conference on the same theme, to which numerous prominent figures from all walks of society were invited. The conference also welcomed EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger, representing the European Commission, the new European Parliament President Martin Schulz and his predecessor Jerzy Buzek, and Herbert Reul. The tone of the presentations and the debates was distinctly favourable towards the plans for a European Energy Community – although, from various perspectives, there are undoubtedly some potential pitfalls that may yet prevent a successful outcome.

 Nonetheless, the numerous participants were in buoyant mood at the end of the conference.

 Right now, the European Energy Community project is still at the concept stage, even though the Commission’s faltering progress towards a European policy will gradually be incorporated in the overall project.

 Admittedly, in the eyes of the Member States, energy is a subject too important to be entirely “europeanised”,  yet all the speakers who attended the conference on 31 January agreed that their fragmented approach to this issue is a discriminatory, divisive and weakening factor.

The conference participants believe there is a need not only for Europe to unite in the face of energy challenges, but for a pan-European approach stretching from the Atlantic to the Caspian Sea. In my view, this wider Europe is well-represented by the Council of Europe, which still incorporates Russia – a major energy exporter. [See my editorial in November 2008].

When discussing the next theme, “Energy: a cause of war”, many participants alluded in particular to the Iraq war and the potential conflict surrounding the Strait of Hormuz. By far the biggest topic of discussion in this context, however, was the ECSC Treaty. This Treaty, which places coal – and steel – under EC control prevented Germany and France from secretly rearming and becoming embroiled in the fourth fratricidal war in less than a century.

As a matter of interest, following the signature of the ECSC Treaty, which entered into force in 1952, that same year the Treaty forming the European Defence Community (EDC) was signed. This treaty was intended to consolidate political fraternity among the Member States. However, the French National Assembly rejected the EDC Treaty on 30 August 1954. Immediately afterwards, the governments of the six founding Member States embarked upon a new initiative heralded by the Messina Conference of foreign ministers. This conference laid the groundwork for the EURATOM Treaty (European Atomic Energy Community) – which also concerns energy and war – and the accompanying Treating founding the EEC (European Economic Community), which was intended to promote rapprochement between the Member States.

Today, the EURATOM Treaty is often overlooked, yet nuclear energy lies at the heart of the energy debate between Member States. Curiously, it was largely bypassed during the conference on 31 January, doubtless because the attendees did not want to be derailed by this potential stumbling block. You may wish to read my editorial of January 2010, in which I draw parallels between the EURATOM Treaty and Jacques Delors’s proposal.

In the nuclear sector, there has been a single, brief exchange of views on the ITER thermonuclear fusion project, which caused no real controversy. (I will come back to this subject at a later date).

Jean-Claude Charrault

Director General