What’s cooking in Strasbourg? – Von der Leyens’ tarte flambée

To paraphrase France’s chansonnier Charles Aznavour, I will tell you about a time unknown to those under thirty. At that time, energy and especially electricity issues were only important to experts, engineers and other “geeks”.

Those days are over. And the State of the Union address, known as SOTEU in EU jargon, will reflect how much energy and power issues now permeate the entire political spectrum: Foreign, social, economic, climate policy – it doesn’t even stop. Most citizens will go about their business in the 27 member states without feeling much of the stir caused by the speech in the EU bubble – and yet: The speech will have consequences for every one of them.

The political agenda in these months is now very much dominated by energy issues. That starts with today, Friday, when the EU energy ministers meet. Then there are the elections in Sweden next Sunday. Why are we talking about that here? The government in Stockholm will take over the rotating presidency of the EU Council on January 1, replacing the Czech Republic.

What will the Swedish presidency bring?

Certainly, not all trilogues on the Fit for 55 package will be completed by the end of the year. This means that when Stockholm takes over the “business” in the Council, the government there will have to take the negotiations to the end. Next Sunday’s election results are likely to give a first indication of how much ambition the incoming Swedish Council presidency will – or will not – display, particularly on climate issues. At the moment, opinion polls ahead of the September 11 vote show Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson and her allies neck and neck with a right-wing bloc in which Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the moderate Conservatives, is the main candidate to oust her from the post of head of government.

For once, Michael Bloss (Greens/EFA), the EU parliamentarian responsible for energy and climate, and the European Commission, represented by its spokesman Eric Mamer, are in agreement: both stressed this week how urgent it is for member states to go on a joint gas shopping spree. Until now, it was rather the case that each individual country made representations to the exporting countries on its own mission. In this way, they inadvertently drove up each other’s prices. The record prices on the markets are also the reason why the energy ministers are meeting today to discuss suitable measures for reducing them.

It is worth noting here that there are six so-called bilateral solidarity agreements between member states on gas supplies: The first one was signed between Germany and Denmark on December 14, 2020; another five agreements were signed between Germany and Austria on December 2, 2021; between Estonia and Latvia on January 4, 2022; between Lithuania and Latvia on March 10, 2022; between Italy and Slovenia on April 22, 2022; and between Finland and Estonia on April 25, 2022.

We do not want to discuss here whether joint purchasing should be legally binding or voluntary. Rather, the point is to emphasize the need to define electricity as a common good for all. And to align the new electricity market with the EU’s climate goals towards decarbonization of our energy.

For one thing, the price rise fueled by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and a summer that showed the true consequences of the climate emergency shows that the two problems are linked. It also becomes clear that the logic of “me first” is at an end. Or do we really have to remind people once again that the principle of “chaqu’un pour soi“, which in English means something like “Everyone is his own neighbor”, is to be prevented at all costs in the current situation. Unless, of course, one wants to play into Putin’s hands.

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