"Check against delivery"
Thank you, Barbara! And thank you for organising our first meeting under the French presidency in the beautiful, historic city of Amiens.
I think all the participants agreed that at this very stage we really needed this opportunity to discuss our initiatives being in the same room.
This is a particularly important time for the energy sector, both for its current state and for its future. In the short term, we are faced with unusually high energy commodity prices, a trend intensified by geopolitical tensions.
But we are also at a crucial point in our long term effort to tackle the climate crisis and ensure a just clean energy transition. To cut emissions by 55% within this decade and ultimately reach climate neutrality by 2050, we need already now to set the course that will get us there.
As Barbara explained, we discussed both of these challenges yesterday and today. Let me start with the situation on the energy market.
In recent months, we have seen global gas prices reach historic highs and this having a knock-on effect on the energy prices in Europe. Consumers and businesses across the EU are struggling to pay the bills, and governments have stepped in to cushion the impact of the unusually high prices.
The toolbox that the Commission put forward last October remains a reference point. It has given Member States the flexibility to respond to latest developments, but in a way that doesn’t distort competition on the EU internal market.
Meetings like today are a good platform to share the ways different Member States have tackled this common challenge. According to the analysis of the Commission, 22 Member States have taken steps to address the situation they face, such us via our toolbox.
This includes adjusting taxation and duties, as well as direct income support, vouchers and other measures to provide short-term relief to those most affected. According to our preliminary assessment, the measures taken beyond taxation and duties, benefit around 70 million household customers and several million SMEs and micro enterprises.
These actions taken by Member States to protect the consumers amount to more than 21 billion – a remarkable and swift effort by the EU governments.
At the EU level, the Commission has launched or adopted almost all the actions announced in the toolbox, to accelerate the clean energy transition and make our energy markets more resilient and operate in an optimal way.
While this has significantly mitigated the impact of the high prices, this isn’t enough to bring to an end the current situation, which of course is influenced by many factors, including global and geopolitical ones.
Today we had an exchange on how we could broaden the options at our disposal. This includes looking at the functioning of our electricity market. As you know, ACER is preparing its report on the benefits and shortcomings of the current electricity market design by April.
We also discussed other ways, within the current legislative framework, that allow citizens to benefit from the integration of clean technologies in the energy system. This can help to keep prices down and maintain the trust in the fairness of the transition.
The comments made around the table today provide important input for our ongoing work.
We also focused on the security of supply. The gas storage levels in the EU are significantly lower than usual at this time of year. Many ministers mentioned how the situation beyond the EU Eastern border creates uncertainty on the markets and how the gas flows from Russia have dropped significantly in recent months.
I updated the Ministers on the discussions we had this Wednesday in the Gas Coordination Group. My message is that Europe has a robust, well diversified and resilient gas infrastructure and clear procedures on solidarity in case of emergencies.
But we need to remain extremely vigilant, improve our risk-preparedness and reinforce solidarity between the Member States. The Commission is deepening its analysis of different scenarios to make sure the existing national plans are fit for purpose, in particular considering the recent developments and levels of storage.
The Commission is also discussing with our partners the potential to increase supplies to Europe. On 4 February, I will attend the Southern Gas Corridor ministerial in Azerbaijan and on 7 February the EU-US Energy Council in Washington, to continue these discussions.
In December, we proposed a revision of the Security of gas Supply Regulation to improve the coordination among Member States regarding gas storage and introduced new provisions to enable the voluntary purchase of strategic gas reserves by the Member States. The objective is to enable a more efficient use of storage capacities and to ensure adequate gas storage levels.
But as I have said many times before, the only lasting solution to our dependence on fossil fuels and hence volatile energy prices is to complete the green transition. Renewables are already today in many places the most affordable energy sources and that trend will continue as technology develops. Renewable energy is also, as a rule, local and therefore comes with fewer security of supply risks.
This is why our discussions on the different elements of the fit for 55 package are not only important for our climate goals, but for ensuring the security of supply and affordability of energy in the coming years and decades.
I want to particularly underline the importance of energy efficiency. In June, we proposed to update the Energy Efficiency Directive and increase our ambition in this regard. Using less energy and in a more efficient way is necessary to make the transition more manageable, as well as to cut energy bills both for households and businesses. Energy efficiency first should be the foundation of our energy policy on the EU, national, regional and local level.
Finally, we also had a very good exchange over lunch on hydrogen. In less than a year and a half, we have taken practically all the steps needed to set up the legal framework for hydrogen to become a realistic option for hard-to-abate sectors.
I have seen a lot of confidence around the table about the prospects for developing a real European hydrogen market with strong EU industrial players. I believe this note of optimism was the best way to conclude our meeting today.
I leave Amiens today even more aware of the challenges in front of us, but more confident that Europe has the strength and the determination to stay the course towards a clean and just energy transition.
I’m looking forward to working with the French Presidency in the coming months to take us closer to our goals.