Today, the European Commission will present a proposal for one of its most important flagship projects: the creation of a European Energy Union. It could lead to the delivery of a genuine single European energy market with increased competition and lower energy costs. It could increase energy efficiency, create millions of new jobs,make Europe the leader again in the fight against climate change and make Europe a more attractive place for companies to invest. Moreover, European energy independence would be a blow to Russia's geo-political significance and make Europe more independent from Russia.
But it will only work if the European Commission dares to propose an Energy Union with teeth. We call upon the Commission and EU Member States to take concrete action in five areas.
Firstly, we must establish a competitive and integrated energy market within the EU. Liberalisation measures, such as the Third Energy Package, are underway, but EU Member States have been too reluctant to implement these laws, made little effort to invest in interconnectors with other energy grids and too often act only to protect their own semi-state owned energy companies. For example, the lack of interconnectors still limits energy exchange between the French and Spanish markets.
Secondly, we need a much more ambitious energy efficiency strategy. The benefits of energy efficiency measures are proven but remain hugely underexploited; they are a low-hanging fruit to pick, creating a win-win situation. If Europe modernises its houses and offices, overhauls its heating systems,updates its transport means and allows smart technologies and ICT innovations, we could save incredible amounts of currently wasted energy. A clear focus on energy efficiency will boost investment and potentially create millions of jobs, for instance in the building sector, but also in Europe's troubled manufacturing industries. It is a crucial condition, if we are to achieve the EU's goal to reduce emissions up to 95% in 2050.
Thirdly, to secure a functioning Energy Union, strong European governance is essential. Modelled on the economic governance framework, the third priority should be to set up an "Energy Pack" in order to keep member states on track. The Commission must monitor and strictly enforce the rules regarding the Energy Union, but also the follow-up of the targets set in the EU 2030 climate and energy framework - those include a drastic reduction of CO2 emissions, and an increasing use of renewable energy.
Fourthly, Europe's advanced position in clean technologies needs to be maintained by boosting research and innovation. We must enhance cooperation between researchers by better targeting existing European funds. Particular attention should go to bridging the gap between the pre-commercial demonstration stage and the actual marketing of new technologies.
Finally, special attention needs to be given to the business side of the Energy Union. The single biggest barrier to investment is regulatory uncertainty, with national and Union policy frameworks changing constantly. Investors will only put their money in the many projects of the Energy Union if the associated regulatory framework is put in place, environmental legislation is predictable and competition policy is sound. This also applies for citizens - today's micro-investors - who increasingly want to produce their own energy.
The stakes are high. If Europe can deliver an ambitious and effective Energy Union, we will deliver a range of crucial goals; more independence, a secure supply of energy, a more sustainable economy, with Europe once again leading the development of green technologies. Putin and many of the other energy exporters outside the EU, who have grown wealthy on our addiction to fossil fuels, will be willing us to fail; but this is a fight we cannot afford to lose.
Guy Verhofstadt is Leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) in the European Parliament