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Debates
Tuesday, 11 September 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

6. Commission Question Time
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  President. – The next item is Question Time to the Commission. I should like to welcome once again Commissioners Oettinger and Almunia.

The specific topic for Question Time today is the state of play of the energy market acquis (third package) implementation.

I will interpret this topic as widely as possible, but I should also warn you that if your question is completely off-topic and if it deals, for example, with the common agricultural policy, you are liable to be cut off.

I should also like to remind you of the ground rules. Questions are taken exclusively on a catch-the-eye basis and each Member has one minute to put his or her question and 30 seconds to put a supplementary. The Commission has two minutes to reply if only one Commissioner is to be responsible for answering. If more than one Commissioner is to reply, each Commissioner has one minute’s speaking time.

 
  
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  Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE).(RO) Madam President, the first comment I would like to make is that we again have one and a half hours on the Parliament agenda for questions to be addressed to the Commission, which has not happened since April, even though this is provided for by the Rules of Procedure. My second point is that the time has already been cut by half an hour. My third comment is that we have two distinguished representatives of the Commission before us, which is a good sign, but we can only ask them questions on a very restricted topic. I do not know, Madam President, why you actually gave agriculture as an example. A subject I am actually interested in, as it happens.

The time allocated to questions is a form of exercising parliamentary control over the Commission’s activities, but it is just a sham in this format.

 
  
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  President. – We took note of your remark.

 
  
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  Romana Jordan (PPE). (SL) Madam President, the REMIT Regulation is extremely important for the implementation of the internal market. We adopted it last year and, in late August, a Parliament delegation visited the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), which has the enormous task of implementing the regulation.

In order to do so, it will require a great deal of human and financial resources and, for this reason, I ask the Commission: what is your position on the implementation of REMIT, how important is it for the completion of the internal market? How does the Commission think the market will function without the implementation of REMIT, or with its partial implementation? How does it intend to ensure sufficient human and financial resources? Finally, I am also wondering what the Commission thinks of the principle that the European Union budget should be such as to enable us to fulfil all of the political commitments we have already taken regularly and without delay?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the single market is one of the two pillars of the European Community. One was and is the union for peace; the second is the internal market. The free movement of goods and products, of workers and companies, of services throughout an environment of 500 million EU citizens. Electricity and gas were latecomers to the internal market. We have had an internal market for food, textiles, vehicles, electrical appliances, furniture and financial services for more than 60 years. Likewise, for oil and coal. Gas and electricity, however, were late to follow, in 1996 and 1998. Since then, we have been working on the implementation of this, on bringing about an internal market. We have achieved a great deal, and we still have some work to do. We have a mandate from the European Council, and also from you, to complete the internal market in 2015. We are working on this by means of legislation, internal market packages, checks, Commissioner Almunia is working on it through specific surveillance of the markets, and also by initiating proceedings against actors in the market. We are working together very well on this.

What is clear – and here I turn to the first question and its answer – is that electricity is not entirely comparable with food or cars. Moreover, electricity and gas need infrastructure. That is why expansion of the infrastructure – transmission networks, interconnectors, cross-border gas pipelines and electricity lines, modern supply lines – is crucial if the regional markets of our 27 Member States are genuinely to come together to form an overall market and if we are also to be able to implement in this market our rules of play, such as competition, transparency, strong consumer rights and thus also an increase in security of supply, and perhaps also pressure on prices.

 
  
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  Romana Jordan (PPE). (SL) Madam President, I would like to add a few comments to my question on the implementation of REMIT. The internal market should be implemented by 2014, not by 2015. In this internal market, we have to do everything we can to prevent abuse and fraud. Therefore, this is about the European Union’s credibility.

Under the current draft budget for next year, ACER has not been granted either sufficient human resources or sufficient resources for the purchase of adequate ICT equipment.

And so, once again, I would ask the Commission to answer how it imagines the internal market will be organised if we do not prevent abuse?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) We have mandated the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) in your capital city Ljubljana to carry out this task. We are in contact with Members of Parliament, your fellow Members, including Ms Hohlmeier, so that the appropriate temporary posts and resources are made available through appropriate budget applications, so that this agency can carry out the task comprehensively in your interests and in our interests, and so that the regulation on wholesale energy market integrity and transparency (REMIT) can be implemented in the years ahead.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). (SK) Madam President, our role in the area of energy efficiency is jeopardised in today’s times of economic crisis. However, if we fail in the area of energy efficiency, we also will fail in the area of ​​climate change, energy security, green growth and social protection.

I would like here to point out one important fact. It is very likely that prices per unit of energy will continue to rise. Increasing prices per unit of energy in the middle of the economic crisis, however, will have a very negative impact on low-income households.

I would therefore like to ask the Commissioner how the Commission is preparing a solution to the energy price increases for low-income households.

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Madam President, we believe that the internal market, with competition between suppliers and strong consumers, makes an important contribution to keeping prices and price increases moderate and in proportion. That is why we are pursuing a strategy of diversification. Take gas, for example. Our most important partner is Russia, but Russia does not have a monopoly. Where Russia does still have a monopoly – in the Baltic States, for example – we are creating competition by means of infrastructure.

Secondly, Norway; thirdly, Algeria; fourthly, we are encouraging the construction of LNG terminals and we are also taking an open approach to demonstration products for shale gas in some Member States. In this way, we avoid monopolies setting the price. As a result, the price in the market falls. Energy efficiency is another means by which we can lower energy costs long-term.

Thirdly, it is the Member States – not us – that are responsible for taxes. There is a European minimum tax rate. The majority of the Member States have much higher taxes. In other words, the Member States have it within their power to lower energy costs for their citizens by reducing taxes.

One final point: spending on electricity and heating is spending on basic requirements. That is why the Member States must adjust their social policies – the way they provide financial assistance to people in need – to increases in energy costs. Energy belongs in the European shopping basket just as much as housing, transport and food. Member States have a duty to check energy costs year by year and to adjust their social payments accordingly for the benefit of their needy citizens.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). (SK) Madam President, very briefly this time. Commissioner, you have mentioned several times that, despite the efforts of the European Commission, it is the Member States that may enter into pricing, including in the area of energy policy, using their instruments of tax policy or social policy.

I therefore have a question – at this moment, a rather political one – about the future. As the Commissioner responsible for this area, do you think it would be appropriate if we moved faster towards some sort of unification, towards the creation of a common basis for determining, say, tax policy in the area of energy policy?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Ms Flašíková Beňová, we will be publishing a communication on the internal market this autumn. In it, we will show how far the internal market has been completed and where we see further measures as being necessary. To answer your question more specifically, I would very much welcome further convergence and harmonisation of energy taxes. It is just that, as you know, harmonisation of tax law requires unanimity, and as Commissioner Šemeta and the Commission in general very often remark, the Member States do not vote unanimously in favour of even sensible proposals for harmonisation of European tax law. For that reason, progress will also be slow in this area. I repeat, however, that I would support harmonisation of energy taxes.

 
  
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  Graham Watson (ALDE). – Madam President, the Commissioner referred to the Council’s deadline of the end of 2014. The internal energy market is a key priority in the Commission’s Energy 2020 strategy and in the Road map 2050.

Earlier this year, the Commission sent reasoned opinions to 17 Member States for failure to implement the Third Energy Package. I would like to ask when the Commission intends to bring infringement proceedings. If the Third Package is about unbundling supply from transmission, will there be a fourth package on physical interconnection of the internal energy market?

Would the Commission at least guarantee that most of the EUR 9 billion foreseen for the energy schemes in the Connecting Europe Facility – if we get it – will be spent on electricity interconnection rather than on gas pipeline investments to the benefit of companies who made a combined profit of USD 180 billion last year?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Mr Watson, infrastructure is one of the keys to the internal market. We still have some Member States that have only one supply line and are dependent on one supplier, so they cannot choose their supplier. That is why we want all 27, soon to be 28, regional markets to be integrated in the coming years. In the energy sector, the Connecting Europe Facility – on which we are spending EUR 9.1 billion over seven years – is our instrument for doing this. You are right that the majority of the infrastructure must be financed by the market and by the grid operators and via energy prices. A power line from Rotterdam to Cologne does not need cofinancing. However, if you want to connect, say, Malta with Sicily and Italy, then you need European cofinancing, because the number of gas and electricity consumers on Malta is too small. Likewise, if you want to have a LNG terminal for a state in the Baltic Region – which would make sense – or to integrate Cyprus, then cofinancing is useful in these areas.

Four years ago, you, as Parliament, made EUR 4 billion available to us for a crisis programme. We cofinanced 60 projects and today I can tell you that with 10-50% cofinancing, we have succeeded in getting some interconnectors up and running which otherwise would not have come about, or only at a later date. We will submit our list of priorities to Parliament in the spring, detailing which projects we see as being in the common European interest – i.e. which we see as being in the interests of more than one Member State – in order to complete the internal market. You will then decide whether you want them. The Council is heading in the right direction here. In the Council, the subject of the Connecting Europe Facility in the energy sector is already largely accepted.

 
  
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  Graham Watson (ALDE). – Madam President, I am grateful to the Commissioner for his answer and his recognition that it is only through interconnection that the market can properly work. Of course, interconnection also creates jobs in the European Union because we are the major – if not the only – manufacturers of the high-voltage direct current cables which are needed for such interconnection.

However, would the Commissioner not agree that it is, in a sense, crazy that we are spending millions of euro on solar power in Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom and very little in southern Europe, where there is actually rather more sunlight? Therefore, can we expect the Commission to come forward with a Europe-wide renewables support scheme so that we can do exactly what he was talking about, namely, connect Malta and Italy, with all of the potential that they have, for the generation of electricity from renewable energy?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Mr Watson, you will have read our communication on the subject of renewable energy that was issued in spring this year. We believe that the national subsidy systems for the establishment of renewable energy, namely, wind energy and solar energy, were correct. Now, however, it is increasingly a matter of the European coordination and harmonisation of these subsidy rules.

I regret to say that the Member States have not so far utilised the existing possibilities. I will illustrate with an example. Together with the Greek Government, we are now trying to get new Helios projects under way; that means photovoltaics and solar parks in Greece that can be attributed to other Member States, that can be credited to other Member States as they work to reach their 20% target. In general, we believe that we cannot retain 27 national subsidy instruments any longer, but that we must increasingly take a European approach to this.

A second problem is that unfortunately, some Member States have made their laws on subsidies for the construction of renewable energy retrospective or have abruptly ended them. This has had a damaging effect on the principle of confidence in some Member States. It does not create planning security and it unsettles investors. In other words, the principle that a party investing must know what the subsidy will be in the coming years should apply throughout Europe and should not be damaged as it has been in some Member States over the past three years.

 
  
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  Teresa Riera Madurell (S&D).(ES) Madam President, Commissioners, certainly the third package, once it is implemented in full, is a very important step forward in the creation of an internal market.

However, Mr Oettinger, as you are well aware, in order for legislation to be properly implemented, above all, there need to be truly independent, professional infrastructure operators without interests in other parts of the value chain. It is also essential that there are sufficient infrastructures connecting the countries.

In the current economic circumstances, the trigger for investments should not be only market signals but rather the genuine needs of an integrated energy system.

How does the Commission intend to ensure that infrastructure operators are genuinely committed to developing the networks and will adopt the necessary long-term undertaking, as was the intention in the third package?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Two instruments play a particular part in our internal market packages. Firstly, unbundling – as you mentioned; the separation of generation and sale on one side and transmission on the other. Secondly, third party access; in other words, opening up existing infrastructure, power lines and gas pipelines to multiple suppliers. We are making good progress on both measures and on both packages. We do not see it as our primary task to take the Member States to court. Our primary task is to advise them and support them as they implement the measures. I can tell you that the vast majority of the Member States are working very constructively on implementation and our Directorate-General is providing them with specialist support in this area. Nonetheless, we do initiate proceedings. We have a number of very different proceedings in progress against various Member States.

Commissioner Almunia is responsible for market surveillance. You will have read in the past few days that a major investigation is under way into a large operator in the market to examine whether it is abiding by our rules in the European market or whether its supply contracts infringe European law.

My final point concerns interconnectors. We are working very closely with the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) and the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSO-G). Those are the European associations of transmission system operators. We also have specific plans in larger European regions for how the networks are to be expanded in the coming years. Along with the Connecting Europe Facility and our list of priorities, we believe that in the coming 5-10 years, the gas and electricity networks will be expanded to bring about the internal market through a capable infrastructure, just like Europe’s motorways and rail networks, the Single European Sky, or our digital world of communications and information. That is the goal that we have for gas and electricity, too.

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the Commission.(ES) Madam President, since my colleague Mr Oettinger has mentioned the competences in terms of sound operation of the market, through the instruments for which I am directly responsible, I would like to state once again here in Parliament, before you all, what was made public a few days ago regarding the opening of an investigation into the possible infringement of Article 102 of the Treaty concerning certain activities by the company Gazprom in at least eight Member States.

If you recall, last year, a series of inspections were carried out in plants that belonged to companies that have signed long-term contracts with Gazprom or with its subsidiaries or companies associated with the Gazprom group. In the light of the information obtained from those inspections, and also based on some complaints received from Member States, the Commission, through the Directorate-General for Competition, has thoroughly analysed this whole case and has concluded that there are serious questions regarding possible infringements by Gazprom within our internal market in relation to three aspects, which concern several of the matters that you raised in your previous questions and in the previous debate.

Firstly, we think there are serious questions regarding a possible infringement relating to fracturing or fragmentation of the market, with prohibitions signed or included in agreements concluded by Gazprom within the European Union or with agents operating within the European Union. This fragmentation of the market consists of prohibiting exports of the gas received from Gazprom to other EU Member States. This is clear fragmentation of the internal market.

The second objection is the indexation of prices included in long-term gas supply agreements or in similar clauses, with a similar effect. We believe that the conditions that existed in the gas market several decades ago have changed substantially and are changing fast, firstly due to the existence of a spot market for natural gas and also due to the changing conditions of the global market with gas produced by the technique known as fracking and shale gas. This means that there is no longer the same justification for price indexation in long-term contracts as there was in the past, and according to our analysis, it does not comply with market principles; in other words, the interaction between supply and demand that must exist in a market and which we want to exist in our internal market.

The third objection is that we think that some of the clauses or conditions established in these long-term contracts create barriers that make it difficult for possible competitors to operate in the market and restrict competition, in particular through, for example, conditions relating to compulsory entry points for gas for those signing a supply contract.

This is the basis for our opinions. What we have done, of course, is open the investigation. Gazprom has been notified and questionnaires have been and are being sent out in order to gather information, not only from Gazprom and its customers here in the EU, but also from all the wholesalers in the gas market and parties concerned in the wholesale gas market that can contribute to ensuring that the competition rules under Article 102 of our Treaty are fully respected.

As you know, the Commission’s responsibility in terms of competition policy is to apply the Treaties and make sure they are applied, in particular, Articles 101 and 102, irrespective of the ownership, nationality or location of the companies operating in our market. The nationality of the company is of no concern to us, nor does it concern us who are the owners or shareholders of the company, whether private or public. We are concerned with the impact of a company’s business on the internal market, and therefore we have opened this investigation, just as we have opened many others in the energy, electricity, gas and many other sectors.

I believe it was important to take this opportunity to inform you of this, as there have been some statements made seeking to divert attention away from our sole objective when opening anti-trust investigations: protecting the sound operation of the market. With regard to energy, this is particularly important for all Europeans.

 
  
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  Claude Turmes (Verts/ALE). – Madam President, I have one question for Mr Almunia. I would firstly like to congratulate you on your actions against Gazprom. We cannot accept what they are doing and I think we should also largely ignore Mr Putin’s recent declaration. We have an internal market and they will have to abide by the rules.

Basically, power exchanges fix prices. In Germany, there are some discussions and some studies that show the following. The prices on the power exchange in Leipzig have gone down over the last two or three years but the contracts, and the reduced costs for the companies and traders buying electricity on the power exchange, have not meant that these benefits have been passed on, particularly to smaller consumers. At the same time, when E.On and RWE presented their balance sheets this year, we – and the media – discovered huge profits. Last year alone, there were profits of EUR 3 billion plus. Some would argue that there is a strong connection between not passing on reduced prices on the Leipzig power exchange and the big benefits for larger – and perhaps also some smaller – companies.

Are you following this situation, and what can you do to ensure that smaller consumers also get the benefit of reduced prices on the power exchanges? Otherwise, people will lose trust in the pricing.

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the Commission. – Madam President, I fully agree with Mr Turmes’s analysis of the key role that power exchanges play in the electricity market. We carried out this year – I cannot remember when, I think it was February – inspections on a list of operators in this market.

We are working with information we collected through these inspections. I cannot tell you any more, though, because we are still dealing with this issue. In the coming weeks, some information should be published on what our next steps will be in this regard.

 
  
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  Bendt Bendtsen (PPE).(DA) Madam President, it is clear to everyone that we lack investment in infrastructure; that is, in energy infrastructure. We are very well aware that funding is always a huge problem. I actually believe that we can create an increased desire to invest among our European pension funds, among others, by adjusting the guidelines concerning ownership. I would like to state quite clearly that I am very much in favour of unbundling and liberalisation in the energy sector, but if we want to create more investment without compromising on competition, then it is perhaps a good idea to do this. Is the Commission open to adapting the rules in this way, and how can this be done in practice?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) We will also go into that in our communication on the internal market. We believe that European legislation does not need a general revision. Where unbundling is concerned – in other words, the independence of the transmission network operators – the measures have been taken. It is now a matter of the national regulations offering sufficient incentives and energy policy offering sufficient planning security.

We will then get investors, if investors know that a pipeline or a transmission network is necessary, makes sense in the European market, and if the returns are sufficiently fair. We are in talks with the European insurance sector. Life assurance and pensions insurance, in particular, are ideal partners for long-term investments, because they need long-term, low-risk investments and moderate returns for their insurance customers.

There is one problem, and that is unbundling. A number of insurance companies have told us that they have shareholdings in energy generation, around 5% in the case of ENEL or ENI or RWE or others, and therefore, strictly speaking, they are not allowed to invest in networks. It is clear that our unbundling policy was intended to separate the commercial interests of the generators from the commercial interests of the transmission companies. If a company has a stake of just 3% or 5% in an energy generator, I believe it is still able to invest in the network. We need a pragmatic interpretation here, and we are working on that.

 
  
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  Bendt Bendtsen (PPE).(DA) Thank you, Commissioner, for that answer. This is precisely one of the issues – the fact that a pension fund that is there to look after employees’ savings can invest in both a generating company and a distribution company. I am very pleased to hear this clear statement and I consider it very positive.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, one of the objectives in implementing the internal market in the energy sector is to reduce energy poverty and increase the access to energy for all citizens, especially to electricity and gas. The EU population is poorer due to the economic crisis, and the implementation of large energy infrastructures is being delayed. What, therefore, is the impact of implementing the Community acquis in the energy sector on reducing the risk of energy poverty in the European Union?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) In general, I believe that our task is to avoid increasing poverty, reducing net disposable incomes, among our citizens. I believe that our work together in the coming years can bring us back to growth, to more jobs and also to the Member States, their citizens, their companies and their economies being competitive.

When it comes to energy, firstly, we, as the Commission, help to check the market, to avoid or destroy monopolies, to promote competition and to strengthen consumer rights. We have a major conference in London each year which deals solely with consumer rights; in other words, the position of the small electricity or gas or heating consumer vis-à-vis its contractual partner in an open market.

Finally, the Commission’s budgetary proposal for the years 2014-2020 takes the energy sector as one of its focal areas. We want energy research to be carried out in the public sector using European resources, thereby reducing the burden on consumers. We want to cofinance infrastructure – the Connecting Europe Facility – to the tune of EUR 19.1 billion from European budgetary resources, which will reduce the burden on electricity and gas consumers, and we want to cofinance energy efficiency by focusing our structural programmes on the renovation of European buildings, with the aim of improving energy efficiency and thus lowering electricity bills in the long term, whether for schools, kindergartens or old people’s homes, whether for private dwellings or public infrastructure.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) We will follow these developments closely.

I would also like to ask you about what stage of implementation the ‘smart grids’ for transporting electricity are at, and about what the financing perspectives are in the forthcoming multiannual financial framework, apart from the Connecting Europe Facility. Lastly, given that the Balkans region is facing an energy shortage, what kind of international cooperation does the Commission envisage for supplying this region with the energy it needs?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Our European energy community represents an opportunity for the countries of the former Yugoslavia, for all the countries in the Western Balkans. You are a Member of Parliament there. Moreover, Serbia will take over the Presidency next year. In other words, the largest country in the Western Balkans will be leading the energy community. Here, we have been very successful in expanding the European energy community beyond the 27 Member States into neighbouring countries, for the benefit of all citizens both within and outside the European Union.

The European budget is only used to fund infrastructure that will benefit more than one Member State. Why? It is because the basic idea of subsidiarity says that where a transmission network – a smart grid – serves only the local citizens in one Member State, this is a matter for that Member State and for the regional market. What we do is standardise. Together with our partners in the European energy community and in the electrical industry, we are in the process of arriving at uniform European standards for smart grids and smart meters. This is in the interests of the internal market and, since it results in higher volumes and facilitates possible associated cost reductions, it is in the interests of the consumer. Our budget does not yet foresee subsidies for transmission networks in the region.

 
  
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  Konrad Szymański (ECR).(PL) Madam President, Commissioner, this will be a very direct question. I would like to ask if, in accordance with the official report of the Franco-Russian intergovernmental meeting held in November 2011, Russia has, in fact, given the Commission a copy of the proposed bilateral agreement under which Russian gas export pipelines would be exempted from the rules of the single market and the third liberalisation package in the energy sector? Has the Commission received a draft of such an agreement? Has the Commission received this kind of proposal, as part of negotiations concerning an association agreement between the European Union and Russia, for example? If so, has the Commission passed the draft of this agreement to the Member States for consultation?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) I am not aware of any such agreement. Even if it existed, however, it would not be relevant. European internal market law in the energy sector is governed by European rules and not by bilateral agreements by a Member State with a third country. In other words, I cannot confirm your conjecture, but even if I could, it would not be relevant as far as I am concerned.

In the area of gas pipelines, we always specify where the point of entry into the European market is. Take Nord Stream, for example. From what point does European internal market law start to apply? The supply lines in the regional European market are then subject to the European internal market law that you have passed. There may be exceptions, but as a general rule, third party access applies. That means everyone has access to every pipeline. Unbundling also applies, so the gas network operators are independent of gas producers and gas users, so that they can play an important, objective role in this energy business.

 
  
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  Konrad Szymański (ECR).(PL) My question was about the draft of an international agreement. An international agreement is a piece of legislation which quite obviously takes precedence in international law over the secondary legislation of the European Union. This being the case, I would like to ask you, Commissioner, if you can deny that Russia has put forward a proposal which, by means of international law, removes Russian gas export pipelines from the scope of legislation that governs its dealings with the European Union?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) I have no intention of lying to Parliament. Obviously, the interests of our Russian partners are different to our interests. They understand our internal market rules very well. They do not really accept them. Our Russian partners have a different culture to ours. In all talks with our Russian partners, we place great emphasis on the comprehensive application of our internal market rules. You can assume that the Commission also complies with applicable law in respect of every third country – irrespective of whether that is Russia, Norway or Algeria – and insists that the third country complies with it.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Madam President, the launching into operation of the new Nord Stream gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea has relieved some of the pressure on the Ost Stream pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Western Europe through Central Europe. At present, the volume of gas transported through its pipes is at about 60% of the maximum possible. The 40% of the capacity of this pipeline that has been freed up could now help supply the industrial areas of Austria and northern Italy with cheaper Russian gas if it was possible to build a short pipeline connection between Slovakia and Austria.

I therefore wish to ask Commissioner Oettinger by what active measures is the Commission prepared to support such a project for improving the efficient use of the European Union’s energy network.

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Nord Stream is a project involving two pipelines; the second will be inaugurated in a few weeks’ time. When it is, up to 55 billion cubic metres of gas from Russian sources will come to Europe via Nord Stream, which is around 10% of our total annual gas consumption in the EU. From Greifswald-Lubmin, a German town on the Baltic where the Nord Stream pipeline ends, supply lines take the gas to the markets of Central Europe. These are covered by internal market law. In this respect, we are in sensitive negotiations with our Russian partners as to the extent to which third party access must apply here.

The crucial thing is that gas, wherever it comes from, benefits every European citizen. That means we need a functioning internal European gas network with reverse flow and with the possibility of transporting gas from each regional market to every other regional market. The North-South link, for example, from the Baltic to Croatia, a project that we are currently planning, is an important contribution to this. Interconnectors between the Member States are a second part of this. The combination of internal market rules and infrastructure will result, in the medium term, in consumers having equal rights and comparable gas prices throughout Europe, so that we do not have very different gas prices in Lithuania and Latvia, on the one hand, and in France and Germany, on the other.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). (SK) Madam President, I asked the question slightly differently. Perhaps it was the translation: I asked whether the Commission was willing also to support a link between Slovakia and Austria, from Eustream to the distribution networks in Austria and northern Italy, in order to shorten the transport distance of the gas, since Eustream capacity currently allows such a link to be supplied.

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) These pipelines are in the European interest. That is why we support them. Whether financial support will be necessary for that depends on two factors. The first is what costs are incurred and whether these are reasonable for gas consumers. Can they be financed in the market by transmission charges, or is cofinancing by the European Union required? Secondly, this will be possible if, in the next few weeks, Parliament adopts the seven-year financial framework and supports the Connecting Europe Facility in the energy sector to the tune of EUR 9 billion. I will then be able to act and will be happy to have talks with the relevant energy ministers and the operators within the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Gas (ENTSO-G).

 
  
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  Bruno Gollnisch (NI). (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, in order to create competition, which, in principle, I advocate, European legislation has imposed the decoupling of energy suppliers and network operators.

My question is as follows: have you yet to carry out a serious, detailed, and quantified assessment of the supposed advantages which consumers should have benefited from? I am talking in terms of price and customer satisfaction.

Allow me to recount a personal anecdote: in my house, I have recently suffered serious damage due to over voltages. When there was just a single operator, work was carried out free of charge, as the operator was also responsible for the network. Now, in my country, France, where things were previously much simpler, the network operator and the energy provider are shifting responsibility between one another.

Now for my question: have you undertaken a customer satisfaction survey, in terms of price, provision of services and maintenance?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Energy customers – in this case, electricity customers – are happy firstly, if there are no interruptions to supply, or if these occur only rarely. You could say that the subject of power cuts plays much less of a role in Europe and that we have much better security of supply than in many Asian countries, for example, or even in the US. We have greater security of supply for electricity than do Americans in Detroit or Los Angeles.

Secondly, customers are happy if the price is reasonable. There is evidence that as a result of the opening up of the market, of competition, of the internal market rules, prices in recent years have not risen as much as they would have done had there been monopolies, when electricity consumers cannot switch electricity supplier. Transparency – in other words, knowledge of electricity providers and their prices and contractual terms – is part of this.

Thirdly, many citizens – not all of them – are, as electricity consumers, also interested in other matters such as protection of the environment, sustainability and climate change. We are working for those, too, and we believe that therefore, the internal market and our European energy and climate policies have helped consumers, and that the further completion of the internal market will help them further.

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the Commission.(ES) Madam President, I would like very briefly to add to the answer by my colleague, Mr Oettinger, because, thinking about electricity users and, in particular, domestic users and their families, obviously from the point of view of my responsibilities as Commissioner for Competition, I have instructed my services to monitor the situation of the market in electricity and other energy sources very closely and continuously.

If you recall, there was a sector enquiry a few years ago, when the Commissioner for Competition was Neelie Kroes; since then, a whole series of measures has been implemented based on what we assessed in that enquiry.

In the specific case of France, there have been decisions that help the market work better, although the concentration of that market is obvious, with an extraordinarily powerful main operator. I can tell you that we are currently particularly monitoring some of the actions of that operator in the market.

I cannot reveal which actions, or the stage that our investigations have reached, but you can rest assured that we are not forgetting electricity users and, in particular, domestic users. This includes those in the longer-standing Member States, where the Commission has already adopted decisions on competition relating to some of their largest operators, based on the enquiry into the sector, and more recently the Member States that joined the Union in 2004 and 2007, where we have also opened investigations and are working on several cases.

 
  
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  Bruno Gollnisch (NI).(FR) Yes, I will speak very briefly to simply say that it does not seem to me that there were more disconnections before, when there was a single operator. I can tell Commissioner Almunia that, previously, this operator was responsible. Now that it has been split into two separate entities, when a maintenance problem arises, the two entities – the energy supplier and the network operator – shift the blame by claiming that the other party is responsible for resolving the problem. This is a real pain for consumers.

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) It is true that several authorities are responsible for ensuring that European standards aimed at regulating both the electricity sector and competition are applied as intended, in such a way that they have a positive impact on the market. Naturally, the French energy authority imposes these responsibilities on the French market, together with the French competition authority. The Commission, in particular Mr Oettinger, is responsible for enforcing the directive. In this way, several proceedings were initiated, once the Commission realised that the directive – in particular, the third package – had not been applied by Member States.

When necessary, investigations will be opened and decisions will be taken under Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty relating to competition, whenever we believe that the Treaty rules are not being applied or that operators are not applying them in this market.

How do we work in the field of competition? Sometimes, we undertake investigations on our own initiative. We receive some extremely useful information from users – citizens or companies.

Therefore, if you have information that you believe the competition authorities, the Directorate-General for Competition, or myself, should be aware of because it is likely to lead to the opening of procedures in the area which falls under my responsibility, please pass it on to me.

 
  
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  Zigmantas Balčytis (S&D). (LT) Madam President, today we have been informed by Commissioner Almunia that timely and correct data or information is very important. Our main objective is the implementation of the Third Energy Package. However, tomorrow we will vote on another document entitled ‘information exchange mechanism with regard to intergovernmental agreements between Member States and third countries in the field of energy’, in which Member States and companies retain the right to provide information about mutual agreements. I therefore have the following question. Will this possibility weaken the implementation of the Third Energy Package and, on that basis, distort the internal market in the European Union?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) We believe that the energy foreign policy that is to be discussed tomorrow will have no negative effects on the development of the internal market. We believe that we need a certain common European strategy in respect of third countries – that is, in respect of supplier countries – which is why we feel it is important that bilateral agreements – in other words, treaties between third countries and Member States – are made public. What we do not want, and are not calling for, is the publication of specific private sector contracts – prices, quantities, terms – unless these infringe internal market law. Then, and only then, will investigations be necessary, as stated by Commissioner Almunia half an hour ago. However, the general publication of private sector contracts is not something we feel is called for.

 
  
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  Zigmantas Balčytis (S&D). (LT) Thank you very much for your reply.

I have another question. Our main objective is to minimise dependence on third countries and this depends on energy balance. What is your view today of the development of nuclear energy, because this type of energy could be the very best and most effective means of favourably resolving the issue of energy balance compared to third countries, particularly Russia?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) We have various legal bases for our Europeanisation of energy policy. Firstly, as always, there is the primary law of the Euratom Treaty; secondly, there is the Treaty of Lisbon, with its separate section on the Europeanisation of energy legislation; thirdly, there are our general internal market rules that have applied to oil and coal for decades, and that we have been implementing for gas and electricity for 15 years now. On top of that, we have the twenty 2020 goals that are binding energy and climate change policy. There is one thing that we do not have, and that is the decision on the technology. In other words, the issue of nuclear power – yes or no; or coal – if yes, how much and for how long; or renewable energy beyond the binding European target – in other words, more than 20%. All that is a matter for national governments and parliaments. We respect that.

In a few weeks’ time, we will submit to you our comprehensive report on our stress tests, containing extensive information on standards, strengths, the risks of the more than 130 nuclear power stations in the EU plus our partners in Ukraine and Switzerland, and which will also provide suggestions as well as requirements for retrofitting and higher standards. We will conduct a debate on that. In the final event, however, the decision will remain a matter for the national governments and parliaments.

We currently have around 30% nuclear power in the European electricity mix. According to our investigations, this percentage is likely to fall slightly, but will remain around this level because as well as shutdowns and exit strategies, there are also new nuclear power stations being planned and built. We respect the decision made on this. We have a multicultural Europe: Italy decided in a referendum not to build any nuclear power stations, Germany has decided to phase out nuclear power over ten years, Poland plans two nuclear power stations, the United Kingdom intends to increase the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix from 25% to 60% and France, with President Hollande’s victory in the election, wishes to reduce the share of nuclear power long-term from the current 76% to 50% by 2025.

 
  
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  Jolanta Emilia Hibner (PPE).(PL) Madam President, Commissioner, I have an important question. If there turns out to be a lot of shale gas, is it to be included in the energy mix? Many countries are making plans to increase their extraction of shale gas. At the same time, many of the Commissioners have asked research centres to carry out a variety of research on questions related to the safety of the technologies used to extract shale gas and the environmental impact of the techniques involved. I would like to know how these research centres are selected, because the results they produce often contradict each other. One centre produces a very positive assessment of shale gas extraction technologies, but another does quite the opposite, and speaks of the very great danger associated with using this kind of technology.

The next question I would like to ask is about the Emissions Trading System. It has not delivered the expected results. We however – the countries of Europe – are still using this system. I would like to know what is going to be done about the ETS.

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Commissioner Hedegaard is responsible within the Commission for matters relating to the Emissions Trading System (ETS). We consider the ETS to be a sensible market economy solution for achieving a reduction in CO2 emissions, and next year we will enter into the control phase. We now have a problem. As a result of the economic stagnation, of the crisis, the CO2 price is no longer around EUR 14-18 as it was for many years, but is now around EUR 6-8. That does not send out a price signal. Consequently, we are considering whether we should take certain CO2 emission rights, certain allowances, off the market for a period in order to achieve a certain increase in the market price. The Commission will make a decision on this in the next few weeks.

The external problem is that CO2 and the ETS have not been recognised or adopted by any other regions of the world. In other words, a world market for CO2 emissions has not yet arisen.

On the first topic, that of shale gas: shale gas has completely changed the world market for gas in the US. Whereas previously, the Americans were major importers of gas, of LNG gas, today they are largely self-sufficient in gas energy and have a cost factor: in the US, gas now costs only around 30% of the price of gas in the European markets.

Last week, we presented three studies on the subject of shale gas and its environmental impact and risks. We are working closely together on this: Commissioner Potočnik, Commissioner Hedegaard and I. We are following demonstration projects. We think it is good that demonstration projects are being tried out in a few Member States. At present, we believe that it is too early for further-reaching binding European rules. In general, we believe that shale gas can play a supplementary role in the European gas market, but that it will not replace existing gas entirely. We will continue to need conventional gas from third countries in the long term. Shale gas will have a supplementary function, but will not be a replacement.

 
  
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  Jolanta Emilia Hibner (PPE).(PL) Thank you for your answer. I would, however, like to know something about the independence of these research centres. I ask this because information received by the committee on which I serve shows that many of the research centres have, in fact, been representatives of specific producers, such as manufacturers of equipment used in the renewable energy industry. It is hard to expect that what they say and the results of their research should be particularly neutral. Therefore, I would like to know if it would not be better if it were research centres from the United States which gave us information on the technologies and methods used in shale gas extraction, and not centres which have a particular interest in promoting particular methods.

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) There are many studies on the subject of shale gas. Certainly, some of these have been commissioned by players in the market and are thus not necessarily completely independent. Our research services are also active. We maintain that the Commission is independent and our experts are able to work uninfluenced by market interests.

One further point: renewable energy is not, in fact, an opponent of gas, but a partner for gas. Electricity from solar energy and wind power needs supplementary power generation, and gas is the natural partner. Whether that gas then comes from Russia, Norway or Algeria, or from our own geological formations, is more or less irrelevant to the renewable energy partner.

 
  
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  António Fernando Correia de Campos (S&D).(PT) Madam President, Commissioner Oettinger, part of this issue has already been discussed today. Everything we know about the application of the third package as regards the delay with transposing its directives – the most recent information available to me seems to suggest that 18 Member States have been notified – seems to suggest that this information is probably out of date already because of the lack of transposition. My question is: how likely do you think it is that the legislation being drafted on trans-European transport networks will include a measure, an incentive, laying down conditionality for the presentation of projects of common interest? Will they be conditional on Member States complying with the obligations resulting from the third package or, on the other hand, do you consider such a mechanism extraneous and think all intervention in this area should simply be left to the normal competition mechanisms covered in Article 101 onwards?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) Mr Correia de Campos, we have the same problems with implementing the internal market packages into the law of the Member States as in other areas of the law. Energy is not a special case; exactly the same applies in the areas of consumer protection, business and in other sectors of the internal market. I do not believe that, if Member States delay implementing EU law, we should use the European budget as a penalty. We believe that our treaty infringement proceedings are successful and that, in the coming years, we will see all the Member States implementing internal market law in the energy sector on a one-to-one basis. The majority of the ministers are highly constructive. However, the Parliaments of our Member States are often rather reticent when it comes to implementation.

 
  
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  António Fernando Correia de Campos (S&D).(PT) Madam President, Commissioner, I recognise the Commission’s goodwill and the spirit of tolerance that has existed in this regard. However, the issue is, do you, who are drafting new legislation that could introduce additional conditionality that is even more robust, consider such conditionality an abusive instrument or do you think it would be acceptable?

 
  
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  Günther Oettinger, Member of the Commission.(DE) I would like to see our treaty infringement proceedings being able to be dealt with more quickly in court. We do not need instruments that go further. We will show in our communication on the internal market that we are making good progress with the implementation of our internal market packages in the Member States.

 
  
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  President. – That concludes Question Time.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: EDWARD McMILLAN-SCOTT
Vice-President

 
  
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  President. – Colleagues, can I first of all share the joy at the liberation from the Ethiopian authorities of two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, who have been pardoned together with others, and safely reached Sweden during the night. I think Ms Corazza Bildt has something to say about that.

 
  
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  Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (PPE). – Mr President, I should truly like to thank you for that announcement. This is a great day for the people of Sweden. Now, Johan and Martin are free. We wish to thank all colleagues for the solidarity and support they have shown. Johan and Martin, together with others who had been in prison in Ethiopia, have been pardoned. They arrived safely home this morning. Now, of course, we all hope for the liberation of all journalists imprisoned throughout the world.

(Applause)

 
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