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Brexit: A wake-up call for a citizens’ energy transition!

  • Posted on: 5 August 2016
  • By: Yamina SAHEB

I can’t speak for you, but in my case, the Brexit had for me the opposite effect of the fall of the Berlin wall. I was in high school in 1989, but it was clear to me that the reunification of Germany would lead to a more peaceful and prosperous Europe. In the case of the Brexit, it’s difficult to see what positive outcomes might unfold, especially given that the Brexit implications didn’t seem to have been thought out by its own leaders.

Like it or not, being unsatisfied with Brussels means being unsatisfied with our national representatives. When I hear we should return EU power to capitals, I worry about the continuous – even after the UK vote – misinformation from too many of our national “leaders” and their abusive manipulation of the EU citizens. But I also worry because there is almost no reaction from the EU institutions – at least not officially.

Those familiar with the EU law-making process know very well, that in the case of the ordinary legislative procedure that applies for most EU acts, it is the European Council and the European Parliament that pass European legislation based on a proposal made by the European Commission. The European Parliament can block a legislative proposal from the Commission by a majority, while in the case of the Council a minority is enough to block a legislative proposal and its related amendments.

And guess what? Who serves in the EU council? Yes, head of States and Governments and their Ministers. All nationally elected! Maybe some of them vote against their conscious and interests of their citizens when they are in Brussels!! We don’t really know as the council-level votes and discussions are not publicly available. We, certainly, don’t read of national “leaders” calling for transparency about their own work in Brussels!

Without being paranoid it makes me wonder. The first reform I would suggest (yes I will get to energy) to reconcile Europe with its citizens would be transparency: why not web-stream the debates and the voting at the Council meetings, or reflecting Member States’ positions in the public “Council Conclusions”, as they are available as internal documents. Web streaming would deter the carpet dealers’ negotiations and install transparency leading to understanding and clarity. But it would also mean that some of our national “leaders” would have to look for a citizenship on another planet!

While the Commission is in theory completely independent of national interests, in practise, the Commission seeks consensus between the Council and the European Parliament. That means, the Commission’s proposals are already compromised and often less ambitious than science suggests and technological progress allows. To put it in perspective, if halogen lamps are still not banned from the EU market, it is because some of the Council Members rehashed the “job losses” argument, again. If the renovation of public buildings is required only for those owned and occupied by central governments, it is because Member States did not want to expand this requirement to public buildings at all governance levels (as suggested by the European Parliament). And if the Commission came-up with a business-as-usual indicative energy savings target of 27% for 2030, it is because some Member States would have never voted for a more ambitious and binding one. We all know of other examples.

To build people’s Europe, I would suggest to the President of the Commission to make sure his staff comes up with a low-carbon energy transition package that is citizen-centred and future-oriented. Yes, amazingly with a vision!

EU citizens are concerned by their health, the well-being of their families and by keeping Europe a liveable place for their children. Such a package should be based on the societal impact of the transformation of the EU energy system. This would mean for a starting position using a societal discount rate instead of the private one and making sure that energy savings can compete on equal basis with the supply side as the Commission did promise to do. Let us not kid ourselves. Our objectives have a societal perspective. Surely we need to be consistent.

A citizen centred energy transition proposal would include at least a plan to:

  • Phase-out all inefficient buildings, as these buildings are anyway unhealthy and running them is costly for EU citizens, by requiring all EU buildings to be renovated to the net zero energy consumption level.
  • Prohibit inefficient technologies from the EU market, as they are making Europe the developing world of the OECD countries, by allowing for sale only the best available technologies in the world.
  • Eliminate polluting cars, as they increase the number of premature deaths of EU citizens, by allowing for sale and use only cars using clean energies.
  • Ban the use of fossil fuels in Europe, as these fuels are making breathing challenging for EU citizens, by increasing the share of energy savings and renewables in the EU energy mix.

Such an ambitious proposal would, certainly, unleash the 4th industrial revolution in Europe. It would, with no doubt foster innovation, create jobs and drive growth, all which would avoid the EU Millennials being tomorrow’s refugees. It is undoubtedly needed!

This column was published for the first time on August 5th, 2016 on eceee