Strasbourg – The European Green Deal is under pressure. The EU path to decarbonization of the European economy and society is suffering the consequences of the Russian war in Ukraine, because of the energy crisis and the increase in gas and electricity prices. The European Commission does not want to renounce the green transition goals (55% net emissions reduction target by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050), while getting rid of energy dependence on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Executive Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, outlined this strategy in an interview to the Italian press agency GEA – Green Economy Agency.
Vice-President Vestager, how is the European Commission reacting to the consequences of the Russian war in Ukraine, considering the EU energy priorities?
“In this critical moment what is important is first and foremost to stand with Ukraine and its people. It goes without saying that we oppose this cruel invasion. Because democracy and freedom is at stake. Also for us. Putin’s war on Ukraine will also effect the EU economy now and in the months to come. Still we need to push for the green transition, so our medium and long term objectives in terms of decarbonisation remain unchanged. This conflict has only highlighted the need to phase out fossil fuels – both to combat climate change and to increase Europe’s energy independence – by drastically accelerating the clean energy transition and ramping up energy efficiency”.
What about state aid for the green economy?
“Last January, the Commission adopted new Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy to help do just that. Those Guidelines broaden the categories of investments and technologies that Member States can support to contribute to our ambitious climate targets. In addition, they make it exceedingly difficult for the most polluting fossil fuels to be eligible for aid. Looking at the near future, to address the immediate crisis sparked by the Russian aggression against Ukraine, we have adopted a State aid Temporary Crisis Framework”.
What does it consist of?
“It enables Member States to mitigate some of the pressure on our economy, while protecting the level playing field – support can be granted without completely removing price signals, which give the right incentives for decarbonisation and demand adjustments. Among other measures, the Framework allows Member States to compensate companies, in particular energy intensive users, for part of the additional costs due to the exceptional gas and electricity price increases”.
Considering the plan to make Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels, will the approach of the EU investigation to Gazprom’s gas supplies reduction change?
“One of the key responsibilities as Commissioner for Competition is to ensure that we base our assessment and our decisions under competition rules on the facts and on the law. Nothing more, nothing less. So, on the one hand, the Commission and the European Union as a whole is assisting Ukraine in the face of the Russian war of aggression against it – and we have several tools to do that, including sanctions, humanitarian aid, financial support and a political decision to reduce our dependency on Russian fuels in the future. And on the other hand, totally separate to this, we have an ongoing investigation under competition rules looking at gas supply to Europe. This is run strictly on the basis of the facts and the law – a competition investigation cannot be impacted by other considerations. Otherwise not only would we be failing in our job but the European Courts that oversee our work would rightfully annul any decision we took in this regard”.
Let’s go back on the issue of energy independence from Russia. Is there a risk of an increased participation of Chinese companies in the EU market, and to a dependence of the Internal renewable energy market?
“We will need to work with a wide number of reliable international partners to meet the challenges of the European Green Deal and the clean green energy transition. Our goal is to ensure the independence of our energy production in Europe – investing in renewables as our main energy source, because the sun and the wind cannot be turned off”.
What is the path?
“We will of course need to ensure that Europe increases its ability to produce and maintain clean energy technologies, and that it secures the necessary raw materials and components to do so. This diversification and decarbonisation will be good for the climate, for our economy, and for our security. Finally, the Commission’s proposal for a regulation on foreign subsidies distorting the internal market, which is currently being discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, will ensure fair conditions of competition by addressing the distortive effects of foreign subsidies in the Single Market”.
Vice-President, you referred to secure the necessary raw materials and components for clean energy technologies.
“Semiconductor technologies, and digital technologies in general, are powerful enablers for the sustainability transition and can lead to new products and more efficient and effective ways of working that contribute to the Green Deal objectives. Chips, in particular, determine the energy performance of smart devices. They are at the core of the green transition – the footprint of the ICT sector can diminish if and only if chips become increasingly energy efficient. Chips are also at the core of electrical vehicles, of smart energy grids, of sustainable agriculture, and of many other applications that will have a positive impact on climate change. Semiconductor supply disruptions and dependencies on other regions can slow down the sustainability transition of European sectors benefiting from digital solutions”.
How will the Commission mitigate the environmental impact of the European Chips Act, with regard to the level of groundwater and air pollution and of energy consumption shown by semiconductor manufacturing?
“Strengthening the semiconductor supply in Europe requires the set-up of new manufacturing facilities. The establishment of industrial facilities may have a negative impact on the environment, but this can be offset by their contribution to the sustainability transition in the long run. And of course also the production as such should live up to our legislation and standards. The framework proposed by the Commission highlights the preference for facilities making use of energy efficient processes and outcomes”.