POLITICO talked with Miguel Arias Cañete, the climate action and energy commissioner. Here are some of the highlights:
“Climate and energy policies have become increasingly important for citizens,” Arias Cañete said, which in turn means that regularly engaging and speaking with national parliaments, as well as the European Parliament, has become ever more important. That’s also part of a broader culture shift within the European Commission, he said. “Transparency is a big change under the new Commission.”
“He’s in charge to coordinate, I’m in charge of delivering,” Arias Cañete said about the split of responsibilities between him and Maroš Šefčovič, Commission vice president in charge of the energy union. The way the Commission is organized since President Jean-Claude Juncker took the helm has meant that a vice-president and commissioner now share responsibility for one broad policy area, rather than having one commissioner in charge of a single policy area as was the case before. “The new system is much more complex than the previous one, it breaks the silo mentality,” Arias Cañete said, adding: “It’s a complex way of operating but the result is that we are very well coordinated among the commissioners.” And that, he said, “makes it easier” in the end.
It’s one thing to talk about making the energy union happen, and another to actually make it happen. And that’s where the third energy package, the EU’s energy rules package, comes in. Arias Cañete said he is working on making sure the third energy package is fully applied in all EU members, adding: “The directive that has been worst implemented is the energy efficiency directive.” And to make sure countries are doing what they signed up to do when passing the EU rules, Brussels is also launching infringement procedures, he said. “It’s useless to come up with something new, when the former one isn’t fully applied.”
“We haven’t developed the grids,” Arias Cañete said, adding that while there has been a lot of investment in renewables, grids aren’t up to standard. That’s also why Brussels is keen on increasing cross-border power interconnections and making political and financial efforts to finally link up at least 10 percent of the EU’s installed electricity production capacity by 2020.
“If we solve the big problems of the bottlenecks, of the grids and the interconnections, and we’re able to harmonize the support schemes within the EU, so that there are no cases of state aid disruptions, arriving at 27 percent will be feasible if not exceeded,” he said about the bloc’s target of reaching at least 27 percent renewables by 2030.
Demand response will be very important, as the EU wants consumers who are active, not passive. Arias Cañete said: “We want a new deal for consumers.” Ultimately, redesigning the bloc’s energy markets serves one end goal — “competition and cheap prices.”
Building the energy union will be a multi-phase process that will involve creating regional markets and integrating them. That will take time. But this also shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with European integration. “The process of building Europe — it’s always slow,” Arias Cañete said.