Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of the EU Energy Union, Maroš Šefcovic ,met recently with the participants of the 2016 Brussels Summer School for Young Leaders whose main theme was ‘EU as a Global Actor’. Organized by Global Learning, a non-profit organization, the meeting took place shortly after the British referendum on the country’s future in the EU, which also largely influenced the students’ lively debate with the Commission’s Vice-President. The students and aspiring future leaders were especially interested to learn more both about Mr. Šef?ovi?’s personal views as well as the general mood in the Commission following the highly controversial British poll.
The Vice-President admitted that Brexit had prompted a significant change to the meetings and an overhaul of the agenda across all EU institutions. He also reminded that the UK’s Prime Minister had given the EU leadership a promise that if the referendum ended up with an unfavorable outcome, he would trigger Article 50 immediately, which has, however, not yet happened. The longer it will take for London to officially start the two-year process of leaving the European Union, the longer the EU will be mired in uncertainty, which is obviously an undesirable situation. Mr. Šefcovic emphasized that it was now of utmost importance to think about the narrative the Commission wants to convey to its citizens, suggesting that the executive will henceforth focus much more on EU’s ‘branding’ among its own citizens.
Apart from Brexit, Vice-President Šefcovic spoke with the young leaders about the Energy Union, one of the priorities of the Juncker Commission and his main area of expertise. The Energy Union offers a prospect of the transformation of the energy sector in Europe and year 2016 has been labeled as the “Year of Delivery” with the aim to submit all legal proposals regarding the Energy Union. According to Mr. Šefcovic , the question is not whether the Energy Union is necessary but rather whether the EU integration process can be sustained without the Energy Union. A major difficulty in preparing proposals related to the Energy Union stems from different needs and concerns among the Member States. For example, while northern European countries are very keen on shifting energy towards renewables, Central Europe is mostly concerned about its energy security in light of its dependence on Russian supplies.
Regarding the 2020 climate and energy package, Mr. Šefcovic said he was optimistic about the achievement of the set goals, pointing out that some of them have already been attained, such as the desired level of greenhouse gas emissions (2 percent). The EU’s aspirational goal is, however, to reach 1.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, whereby the degree of success in implementing this objective will be assessed again in 2018. The Vice-President also highlighted the fact that the European Union is the first major economic power that has managed to decouple its economic growth and the growth of emissions. However, more efforts must be made in the area of energy efficiency as Europeans still waste great amounts of energy. This is also given by the fact that many buildings in Europe are old and do not meet current energy standards, which requires investments to improve their energy efficiency.
Mr. Šefcovic also expressed the view that the EU needs to prepare a roadmap for what will come after 2020. While he admitted that a focus on the regulation was important, even more important is to change the behavior and mindset of the people, which will in turn facilitate the shift towards a low-carbon economy, to spur innovation and technology, both of which will support this shift, as well as work more with private businesses. The EU’s aim is also to sell its environmental technology and experience to developing countries. Finally, regarding Russia, Mr. Šefcovic said that there were three major ways how to counter the dependence of many European countries on Russian energy supplies – namely, the diversification of sources, the construction of new pipelines (such as the Southern Gas Corridor – SGC) and putting more focus on LNG.