BRUSSELS -- The European Union's energy commissioner has unveiled the main outlines of a proposed joint EU energy strategy for the next 10 years.
Presenting his "Energy 2020" strategy paper in Brussels today, Guenther Oettinger called for investment of up to a trillion euros ($1.4 trillion) to strengthen infrastructure across the bloc. He also pleaded for a common external energy policy, saying member states pursuing their own interests weaken the EU's collective negotiating position.
Reforming the energy sector is one of the crucial challenges facing the EU as it attempts to modernize its economy and consolidate its foreign policy stance.
Oettinger said the bloc needs to start factoring the impact of growing energy prices into its economic plans.
"We have rising energy prices, which are an increasing problem both for the competitiveness of the industry as well as the social well-being of EU citizens," he said.
20 Percent By 2020
To bring down costs, Oettinger said, the EU must decrease its dependence on expensive fossil fuels, such as oil, gas, and coal, and invest in renewable energy sources. Such a move would also help the bloc to counteract climate change.
The EU has committed itself to reducing by 2020 its carbon dioxide output by 20 percent and bringing the share of renewables up to 20 percent by the same date. Oettinger today said he also wants the bloc to increase energy efficiency by 20 percent by the same date.
The strategy unveiled today -- which must now be endorsed by the member states -- also says the EU must find about a trillion euros in the next decade for vital infrastructure projects. Oettinger said these include collaborative ventures with the Maghreb countries, Turkey, and Georgia.
The EU energy commissioner also urged member states to take steps toward bringing down barriers still separating their energy markets.
Despite years of promises and commitments undertaken by the member states, the EU energy sector remains highly fragmented. Oettinger contrasted that situation with the progress achieved in other fields -- such as the free movement of people and goods, as well as the recent EU-wide deregulation of communications and information technology sectors.
The commissioner also pleaded for a joint EU energy diplomacy, saying a common external energy policy would put the bloc "in an excellent negotiating position" vis-a-vis countries such as Russia.
Oettinger said ensuring the further diversification of the EU's energy supplies is an important part of the 2020 energy strategy. However, he appeared to distance the European Commission from calls to cut Russia's share in EU energy provisions and transit, bracketing together the Nabucco and South Stream pipelines.
"We have a European interest in the southern corridor. We believe that we need a long-term strategy for Europe and our gas markets for the direct importation from [the Caspian region] of not only, but gas as well," he said. "Nabucco is a possibility. There are [also] other pipelines, like South Stream. It is decisive that we build direct connections to the sources in the Caspian basin over the next decade."
Oettinger highlighted the expected contribution of the North Stream pipeline between Russia and Germany currently under construction, which could amount to more than 50 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year. Nabucco, on the other hand, is expected to deliver a little more than 30 bcm annually in full flow.
Oettinger today also called for "trilateral" talks between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU to examine the long-term future of Ukraine as a transit country for gas.