5 October 2007 – The EU Commission leaders have defended their plans for a radical shake-up of the EU’s energy market presented two weeks ago and thrown their weight behind nuclear power as one of the drivers of a “third industrial revolution” that should lead Europe towards a “low-carbon age”.
In the light of increasing concerns about climate change and energy security, the Barroso Commission has made revising and strengthening the EU’s energy policy one of its top political pritorities.
On 19 September, the EU executive proposed a series of measures designed to further liberalize the EU’s energy market while at the same time protecting it from political leverage from outside energy-providing nations such as Russia.
Following the release of this package, the Commission is now preparing to produce, before the end of the year, another series of measures designed to foster a ‘third industrial revolution’.
Speaking at an energy conference in Madrid on 1 October, Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Competition Commissioner Nelly Kroes delivered their views on what form the EU’s energy landscape should take in the coming decades.
Following the announcement, the Commission is apparently beginning to move beyond its traditionally ‘agnostic’ stance on the issue towards a more pro-nuclear position.
During the conference, which included energy sector heavyweights such as the CEOs of Royal Dutch Shell, EDF and ENI, Barroso argued that the EU must hold a “full and frank” debate on the nuclear issue as part of wider considerations to reduce the bloc’s CO2 output. “Member states cannot avoid the question of nuclear energy”, he said.
Kroes and Piebalgs seconded Barroso’s comments. Kroes expressed herself as being “completely in favour of nuclear power”, while Piebalgs said that member states must “have the courage” to debate the issue.
Piebalgs also told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that up to 30 per cent of the EU’s energy should be produced from nuclear to address energy security concerns.
The Commission’s comments were warmly welcomed by representatives of the nuclear industry, according to press reports.
Favouring nuclear energy appears to be part of the Commission’s drive for a low CO2 economy: “I believe we are now standing on the brink of a Third Industrial Revolution: the Low-Carbon Age”, Barroso told the conference.
But nuclear is not the only option being considered by the Commission in its quest to reduce CO2 emissions. In addition to more energy produced from renewable sources, the Commission is also hoping for a breakthrough in financial commitments for carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects, despite public doubts about the viability of CCS.