Feature Report: The Long Road to a European Energy Union

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Europe's Energy History, A Series of Fits and Starts

The history of European construction began in the early 1950s with a decision by several countries to pool their production of coal, the most important source of energy at the time. History did not follow a linear progression however, and 75 years later, the European Union is still trying to coordinate its energy policies, while grappling with the new threat of global warming.

L’Europe de l’énergie : une histoire à éclipses
The Treaty of Rome, signed on March 25, 1957, officially established the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). Certain provisions are still in force today. © AFP

It All Began With the ECSC

Energy was the starting point of European construction. On May 9, 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed the creation of the European CoalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... and Steel Community (ECSC). May 9 was later to become "Europe Day".1

The ECSC was established in 1952 when France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands decided to create a common market for coal and steel. The six countries handed over their powers to a High Authority, thus making the ECSC the first European organization to be founded on the principles of supranationalism.

The intention was to make another war between France and Germany "materially impossible" and to ensure the modernization and profitable development of the European coal and steel industries. Strategic and military concerns were also part of the equation, at a time when the Cold War was beginning to heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... up.

1952: the year the ECSC was created.

Euratom, A Novel Initiative

This sense of common purpose resurfaced five years later on March 25, 1957 when the same six countries signed two treaties in Rome that laid the foundation for a unified Europe. The first treaty created the European Economic Community (EEC), while the second established the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).

The Euratom Treaty was designed to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energyEnergy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water... and introduce a common system for procuring supplies of fissile materials, such as uraniumGray, very dense radioactive metal that is relatively abundant in the Earth's crust and oceans in the form of UO2... . The objective was to enhance Europe's energy independenceThe ability of a country or region to meet all its energy needs without having to import primary or final energy. and guarantee the supply of raw materials in the wake of the Suez Crisis, which threatened to cut off oil supplies. Several regulations of the treaty are still in force today.

Energy Reemerges in the Single Act

For many years energy issues then sat on the back burner, no longer the object of special consideration or specific institutions. They reemerged in 1987 with the entry into force of the Single European Act under the leadership of Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission. The goal was to complete the internal market by removing obstacles to the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. To liberalize the energy sector, a variety of measures were taken to spur competition between operators and establish a trans-European network; unbundle production, transportation and distribution operations and introduce market prices. The idea was to adapt to the general rules of a single market, not to devise an energy policy. During this period, investments in gas-fired powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... plants grew sharply.

Ambiguities in the Lisbon Treaty

The Lisbon Treaty signed in 2007 made energy policy a shared competence between the European Union and Member States. However, it maintained each Member's right to choose its energy sources, determine the conditions for exploiting them and establish the general structure of its energy supply. As a result, Member States remain sovereign in many decisive areas of energy policy. These restrictions reflect major differences in the energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region. in each country and a diverse range of views with regard to nuclear energy.

Euratom introduced the idea of a European system to manage the supply of uranium. 

The Impact of Climate Change

At the turn of the century, the energy picture became more complex with growing concerns about climate change. In 2005, a new market came into existence: a carbon market based on an emissions tradingThe buying and selling of products in financial markets... system (ETS). In 2008, the European Market adopted binding legislation to meet climate targets for 2020, which it then modified in 2014 for 2030. To achieve these objectives, Member States have resorted to various regulatory tools and subsidies that sometimes clash with market liberalization measures. In the electricityForm of energy resulting from the movement of charged particles (electrons) through a conductor... market for example, the integration of renewable energyEnergy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale... sources already paid for by taxpayers have driven out gas-fired power plants, which are financed by the market. This situation has led to some new plants being mothballed, which is absurd from an economic standpoint.

"European Energy Union", A Priority of the Juncker Commission

Taking note of these inconsistencies, in early 2015, the new European Commission chaired by Jean-Claude Juncker proposed the creation of a European Energy Union. In the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, energy has once again become a separate policy area requiring not only technical expertise but a comprehensive, political and strategic approach as well (see Close-Up: The Five Pillars of the European Energy Union).


Source :

(1) Europa