The Cardinal Sins of European Energy Policy: Nongovernance in an Uncertain Global Landscape

Recent years have seen some fundamental changes in the way the global energy sector and its governance function. All of these changes have a significant impact on the energy policy choices that are available for EU policy makers and should be incorporated in a proactive European strategy for the future. Instead, however, we witness a general stalemate in the energy policy debate within the EU, and internal problems seem to impede any meaningful and coherent external policy. In this article, building on a wide literature review, we sketch the changing global energy landscape, explaining the current state of ‘unprecedented uncertainty’ around a set of major issues. Then we describe what we see as the five ‘cardinal sins’ of European energy policy and governance, which preclude effective common responses and external action. We conclude by outlining possible ways of overcoming the challenges that face European energy policy and governance.

The current global energy landscape is characterized by an unprecedented degree of uncertainty, linked to shifting patterns of energy supply and demand, changing roles of key players (caused inter alia by the unconventional hydrocarbons ‘revolution’, the rise of renewables and the exploration of the Arctic), the complex impact of the climate regime, and political instability in key regions.
The EU's energy policy and governance suffers from five key problems: the tension between national sovereignty and common European governance; a navel-gazing policy orientation; a segmented internal energy landscape; the overlooked and ill-defined rationale of energy security; and a backlash against sustainability that impedes an energy transition.
The EU needs to streamline its energy policy with a common vision, building on the concepts of solidarity, responsible sovereignty and a deeper understanding of energy security in particular vis-à-vis the changing global landscape. The EU has to define a position in an increasingly fragmented international energy system that is contradicting the overall trend of globalization.
The aim of common policy should be to transform the European energy system towards sustainability and optimizing costs, without perpetuating fossil fuel dependency, and to acknowledge the inherent trade-off between short-term costs and long-term advantages.