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FAREWELL: 10 YEARS IN EUROPEAN ENERGY POLITICS

by Linda Bertelsen
Flag of European Union waving in the breeze against a sunset sky.

The European elections in June 2024 mark the end of my career as a Member of the European Parliament, a career in which energy politics has been at the front and centre of my political work. By no means have European energy politics come to an end.

By Morten Helveg Petersen, Member of the European Parliament

Published in Hot Cool, edition no. 1/2024 | ISSN 0904 9681 |

More than anything, the story of EU politics over the past ten years is the story of the rise of energy politics on the political agenda. I like to recall how energy- and church policy were at rock bottom on the popularity scale amongst Danish politicians when I entered the Danish parliament in 1998. Not sexy, no profile, basically, nobody wanted to work on those committees.

A reflection on Europe’s shifting agenda

Today, of course, energy politics have left church policy behind and crawled to the top of the agenda. Energy politics is at the centre of Europe’s security situation as well as citizens’ everyday life. I did not predict the magnitude of this development when elected to the European Parliament in 2014. Still, I did aim straight for a seat in the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE). Although, at the time, climate policy was far from being the all-consuming societal topic it is today, it was an issue somehow lurking on the horizon.

Also, as a keen supporter of the European community, I was never blind to the historical fact that the European Union was created on top of energy cooperation in the European Coal and Steel Community. Energy politics and Europe somehow go hand in hand, and during the constitution of the European Parliament over the summer of 2014, I won my seat on the ITRE committee and went to work.

The Paris Agreement and the European Energy Union

In 2016, European leaders gave a handshake on the decision to create a European Energy Union. Ever since, the energy union has been a point of orientation in the ITRE committee, with numerous law initiatives pointing towards the internal market for electricity.

The European Energy Union agreement followed shortly after the Paris Agreement emerged in 2015. This historical global accord involved 196 UN member states committing to limiting temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees. Although experts across the world today find it unlikely that we will be able to reach the goal of the Paris Agreement, it still marks the starting point of the global climate policy environment we are surrounded by today. The Paris Agreement also heightened awareness of climate issues and emphasized the need for market-based green energy solutions.

Between the Paris Agreement and the Energy Union, it was straightforward to envision significant market expansion, and it became a key issue policy for me to pave the way for green Danish climate solutions going forward. Many Danish companies stand on the foundation of the Danish history of wind power, energy efficiency, and district heating. It became my business in European politics to pave the way for these companies and their green products and technologies in the emerging CO2-neutral economy.

Lessons learned from early struggles in European energy security

In those early days of my career in the European Parliament, I experienced one of my thankfully few defeats in the European Parliament. Following Russia’s invasion of Krim, there was a growing concern about Putin’s next move, not least amongst my Eastern European colleagues in the European Parliament. In 2014, I went to work on the European Security Strategy with enthusiasm. Essentially, the goal was to ensure the EU moved away from our increasing dependence on Russian natural gas imports, and while such a goal seems evident today, it was not in those days. Back then, Europe’s naivety was intact, and the European Energy Security Strategy failed to be adopted during the European Parliament’s plenary session in June 2015.

My journey with ACER

By the end of the term in 2018, I became a rapporteur on the establishment of the European Union Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER). It was one of the files pointing towards the Energy Union, and the file was close to my heart because of the European cooperation and integration involved. ACER’s mandate was and is to develop conditions for cross-border green energy, and there is something fulfilling in the idea of a Europe where green electricity flows freely across our borders with the purpose of providing cheap, green energy for European citizens. Today, of course, this is also a matter of energy security, and ACER has steadily grown in size and importance ever since we established the agency.

Climate election

By 2018, the climate debate had reached a new level. I cannot pinpoint a single issue that made the difference, but by then, public attention had grown, and as lawmakers, we experienced how the climate issue had grown in importance through citizen inquiries, lobbyist approaches, and so on. There was a climate angle to almost any policy in the system, and it all culminated with the 2019 elections, which was coined the “climate election” due to the clear climate policy mandate European citizens provided in the elections.

The European Commission answered the people’s call by presenting the EU Green Deal, a historical political idea designed to decarbonise the European Union going towards 2050. For my part, I regained my seat in the European Parliament and entered my second period, knowing I had chosen the right path when I opted to enter European energy politics in 2014. Once again, I entered the ITRE committee.

Navigating energy policy amidst pandemic challenges

Soon enough, though, the Covid-19 pandemic cast its shadows over the world, and the legislative work slowed down for a while. Despite the pandemic turmoil, the European Commission presented its Fit for 55 package in the summer of 2021, a comprehensive law package designed to reduce the EU’s net target GHG emissions by at least 55 % by 2030. It was all energy policy, and the next few years should bring me back to working with energy efficiency in the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive as well as the electricity market. However, I began with the EU Offshore Renewables Strategy, for which I became the lead negotiator. I was keen on this file in particular because of the Danish potential and the opportunity to make Denmark a net exporter of green electricity due to the optimal conditions for offshore wind power in the North- and Baltic Seas.

Also, in the Offshore Renewable Energy Strategy, much focus was on cross-border cooperation, which is so crucial for a successful European electricity market, and I was delighted when countries around both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea later agreed to enter precisely such cooperations.

Morten’s energy files for the last two periods:

Morten Helveg Petersens energy files for the last two periodsEnergy dependence as a weapon

The final step for energy politics toward the top of Europe’s political agenda was, of course, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in March 2022. It struck Brussels like a hammer and completely changed the discourse of EU law-making; first and foremost, everyone realised that our energy dependence is a weapon that can be turned against us.

Discussions over climate ambitions in the individual law files disappeared; across the board, more ambitions crept into the files. As much as the backdrop – the war in Ukraine – is sad and terrible, it definitively gave Europe’s green transition a boost.

Reflecting on a decade of energy politics

I have been lucky to be in European energy politics for ten years of explosive development. As I leave the European Parliament, energy politics is perhaps more interesting than ever, but it leaves no regrets with me. Europe’s green transition is the most remarkable project of cooperation I have ever been involved with. I am truly impressed with the commitment to carbon neutrality I have experienced from all walks of societal life: political colleagues, industry, NGOs, civil servants, and citizens.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank also the European district heating community for your cooperation and commitment to the cause. As a lawmaker, this is what you need from industries to work your way through the necessary energy reforms, and more importantly, such commitment is a precondition for a successful journey towards global carbon neutrality in 2050.

For further information please contact:  mortenhelveg.petersen@europarl.europa.eu

“Farewell: 10 years in European energy politics” was published in Hot Cool, edition no. 1/2024. You can download the article here:
Farewell - 10 years in European Energy Politics

Meet the author

Morten Helveg Petersen
Member of the European Parliament