The Guest Blog

“Energy has always been a strategic element for national governments, which they had to control in order to signal strength and power. In the new energy world, national borders will not have the same meaning anymore.” says Jo Leinen, German S&D Member of the European Parliament. His colleague Benedek Jávor, Hungarian Member of the European Parliament for the Greens, adds, “Our understanding of energy security is very one-dimensional. I actually think the main question we need to answer is: how much do we believe in the EU, so that we can build a secure energy system within our Union.” And Carolina Punset, Spanish ALDE Member of the European Parliament knows that this can only mean to enhance renewable energy: “The role of gas has to be diminished as gas is a fossil fuel that needs to be phased out in the long term for the EU to meet its climate and energy targets and make the transition to a sustainable economy.”

The three Members of European Parliament co-hosted a cross-party policy debate in the European Parliament last week together with the World Future Council and Heinrich Boell Foundation EU on “Regional cooperation in the energy transition and upscaling renewable energy”. Examples from across Europe were shared that proved how renewable energy technology has the power to unite the continent in critical times of Euroscepticism and nationalism. Melinda Loonstra-Buzogány from the Dutch municipality Emmen presented the initiative “Smart Energy Region Emmen Haren” (SEREH), which aims at building a regional, decentralised and mostly communal cross-border energy system: “We want to work with our neighbours in Germany to become carbon neutral and strengthen our local economy.” In order to realize this, she highlighted the need for all levels of governments to work together to overcome existing regulatory barriers and create tangible profits for the citizens. This is something that also Veerle Dossche from the City of Ghent in Belgium shared. She presented the Burzaame Stroom” project, inspired by similar initiatives in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and others. In Ghent, it has evolved into an initiative of the city government that helps increasing the share of RE in a specific city district, by installing technical solutions and coaching people to save energy and to use their energy more wisely. A special focus lies on the integration of low-income families – a matter which is of equal concern for other municipalities in the EU. “We involve the people, because we can only achieve our political target of doubling the share of locally produced renewable energy from 7.5% in 2011 to 15% in 2019 (from total household consumption), if citizens are engaged and have ownership in this transition.” In the South East of Europe, as Learta Hollaj from the Institute for Development Policy explained, Kosovo made similar experiences: “In a region, which still believes in the future of fossil fuels for its independency, we need to explain the people every day the benefits of renewable energy. Regional cooperation actually requires a lot of trust and open-minds towards your neighbors, which is also something difficult in our region. So we need European and national institutions to foster that, so we have a peaceful and prosperous future.”

Policies to shift the power to the people

The “Clean Energy for All Europeans” Package (also referred to as the “winter package”) will have a crucial impact on how regional cooperation can help scaling up renewables in the EU. New rules must increase regulatory flexibility specifically for cross-border territories to scale up renewables. This is particularly needed as EU`s 2030 Climate and Energy Framework lacks ambition, firstly because of the low RES target of “at least 27%” but also due to its “EU-wide” level approach without binding or specific Member State contributions. Learning from local and regional champions, the World Future Council and the Heinrich Boell Foundation have summarized the policy asks, which would unleash the potential for renewables on the local level, specifically in cross-border regions.

  1. Define Regional Cooperation
  2. Strengthen Territorial Cohesion through specific regulatory provisions
  3. Integrate cross-sectorial cooperation into regional cooperation
  4. Engage local and regional authorities in development of national energy and climate plans
  5. Enable Micro-Level Regional Cooperation
  6. Amplify local voices in European politics

In fact, many policy-makers especially in the European Union refer to already existing regional cooperation as cooperation between two or more Member States (see e.g. Art. 5 in the new Renewables Directive). However, as local policy shapers reported again in the EU Parliament last week, there is another dimension of regional cooperation: the “micro- or sub-national level”.

This type of micro-level regional cooperation is indispensable because it offers the best possibility to create fitted-solutions for local needs, while at the same time establishing adequate and flexible frameworks on national and European level. Examples showed that a common cross-border identity is facilitated, while revenues generated by decentralized renewable energy plants are more likely to stay in the region. For this to happen, European Institutions and its Member States need to collaborate closer. Paula Abreu-Marques from the European Commission DG Energy highlighted, that “energy is a shared competence between the EU and the national governments.”

In fact, as MEP Benedek Jávor pointed out, the predecessor of the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), was already centred on energy. By creating a common market for two crucial resources, Europe was brought closer together after the Second World War. Today, the crisis-stricken continent needs to come together again. Territorial cooperation in the form of cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation must strengthen the economic and social cohesion of the European territory. And again today, energy plays a crucial role in that! Hereby, only renewables have the power to reconnect Europe, shift the power to the people and unite our continent.

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