Having visited Vienna last week, I presented to the Austrian government and parliament, trade unions, the business community, and civil society how the Energy Union could benefit their country. As in other countries, along the Energy Union Tour, such benefits range across: security of supply and energy efficiency as well as regional integration, decarbonisation and innovation – the latter three of which Austria is doing already very well. But one topic that came up across all my meetings was the strong will to maintain the integration of the Austrian electricity market with the German one.
Given Austria’s central location, it is only natural that enhanced regional cooperation with its neighbours is crucial. Austria also has a very important role to play when it comes to our cooperation with our Western Balkan partners, notably with regard to the Energy Union which doesn't stop at the borders of the EU. I therefore fully support this approach of 'European energy' which knows no borders.
The current debate about the integrated Austrian and German market raises many difficult questions. One lesson from it, however, is clear: we urgently need investment in better infrastructure to connect the regions where electricity is generated and where it is highly demanded – regardless of national borders. Regions with Renewable Energy Sources are often not the regions where the traditional power plants have been for decades. This has consequences for the infrastructure, but also for companies and jobs.
What else came up in my meetings? Quite a lot actually. In one of the most intense schedules of my Tour so far, I met on the same day with Vice-Chancellor Mitterlehner, members of all groups of the national parliament, as well as business representatives, and civil society. The messages of the associations and NGOs were clear and touched upon many issues: a better framework for Renewables, concerns about the impact of competition guidelines on small scale projects, and the importance of COP21. During my meeting with the Austrian business community, I was happy to have Commissioner Hahn besides me as no one can communicate the EU better than he can to the Austrian public. Overall, there was broad support on all aspects of the Energy Union.
But it's not only about what Austria is doing as part of its energy transformation but how it is doing it. I am deeply impressed by the level of involvement of the civil society in general and social partners in particular. These include employer and business representatives on the one side and trade unions on the other. In fact, it is often the Austrian social partners who come up with concrete innovative ideas, like 'youth guarantee', or ensuring that vocational training matches the real needs of the job market and allows young people a smooth transition into jobs. I hope their example will inspire social partners in other countries. We will certainly need this cooperation to anticipate and manage the fundamental energy transition across Europe.