Rafał Trzaskowski: “We have changed the way of thinking about energy in the EU”

Rafał Trzaskowski: “We have changed the way of thinking about energy in the EU”

For Poland, is the Energy Union Package a success?

It is a success, no doubt about that! We have managed to change the way of thinking about energy security in the European Union. I believe there is no way back to the situation where energy was being treated purely from the perspective of national interests, away from climate and economic challenges. We did succeed in placing energy on the right track , where the EU’s common, strategic, geopolitical goals matter more than regional aspirations and where external energy suppliers cannot play us against each other, in line with a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. . This long-term change in the EU’s philosophy is as important as practical legislative proposals.

Almost all the solutions from the original proposal by Donald Tusk, the then Prime Minister of Poland, are now in the Energy Union Package. All agreements, commercial ones too, will have to be transparent, which means: fully compliant with EU law and EU energy security provisions, without prejudice to the confidentiality of commercially sensitive information. That is a Copernican shift to what we have at the moment. The Commission will be finally able to verify whether EU laws and energy policies are being obeyed. It is very important that it also concerns the EU’s policies, as some contracts do not explicitly break the EU laws, but go against the philosophy of the single market. Also, collective purchasing will be possible, in line with EU competition law and WTO rules, although it will not be compulsory.

Is Poland planning to build an inter-governmental platform for such collective purchasing of gas?

[Tweet "So far, we are talking about general conclusions that need to be translated into legislation"]We welcome this possibility, but it is the Commission’s job to set up such a platform, certainly based on a voluntary opt-in principle – various options and modalities of the so-called “voluntary demand aggregation mechanisms” are now to be carefully examined. So far, we are talking about general conclusions that need to be translated into legislation. This will be a very complex process, even more intense than the one in the European Council, and will take place this time, in the sectoral EU Council for Energy (TTE). We have achieved great success, but it is only the beginning. There is still a long way to go before we can announce a final victory. When it happens, we will all be winners. All Members States will benefit from a more integrated, transparent, and competitive energy market.

The Council’s conclusions to the Energy Union Package mention the North–South Corridor, CEEP’s initiative, as a priority. Is the construction of the Corridor equally important for the Polish government?

[Tweet "Infrastructure is a fundamental priority for Poland."]Infrastructure is a fundamental priority for Poland. It is as important as the EU’s proper legislation. No energy independence is possible in Europe, without market transparency and competition, which demand legal solutions. Yet, these solutions will not be effective without infrastructure. If we aim at providing the continent with energy security, we need a holistic approach to the issue. We cannot simply continue our 28 national energy policies.

I am satisfied that Poland and Lithuania are strengthening their geopolitical situation with additional LNG terminals. Nevertheless, this is not enough: some countries in Central Europe could enhance their energy situation, if infrastructure allowed for the free flow of energy. Look, for instance, at Hungary’s energy situation, which could be vastly different now, if the finalised North–South Gas Corridor offered access to LNG via the Świnoujście terminal. That is why Poland supports, and will support, this initiative, and all others that strengthen infrastructure in Europe.

Poland is heavily investing in new energy power plants based on coal. At the same time, the Energy Union Package puts an emphasis on further decarbonisation of Europe. Isn’t this a contradiction?

The Polish government makes its position clear: Poland, as with every other EU Member State, is free to shape its energy-mix. Both the EU’s legislation and the Energy Union Package give us the right to promote our own indigenous sources of energy. It is no secret that our indigenous source of energy is coal, and possibly also shale gas in the future. We are constantly working on diversifying our energy-mix, but coal is still going to be its key element by 2030. Probably smaller, but still an important part of our energy-mix.

The debate on coal is a difficult one. We feel the pressure to eliminate coal from our energy-mix. Yet, we cannot agree to that. As an alternative, we are renewing our power plants, so that the new units can demonstrate much better performance, which can also bring an expected carbon reduction effect. Our approach is pragmatic: we reduce emissions and protect economic growth at the same time. We strongly believe that thanks to new technologies coal can also be a source of cleaner energy.

In this context, how would you comment on the failure to block an early start of the Market Stability Reserve (MSR), due to the coalition break up?

Firstly, I have to clarify that the blocking minority, formed under the leadership of Prime Minister, Kopacz, concerned exclusively, the date of entry into force of the mechanism. Other sensitive aspects for Poland – such as the transfer of backloaded and unallocated allowances to the MSR, were not supported by all Member States from a like-minded group. At the end of the day, namely in the run-up to the final trilogy, there were two options on the table – an earlier date with exemptions, protecting the compensation mechanism negotiated in October, 2014, for lower income countries like Poland, or the initially envisaged date (2021) without any concessions. The latter could, in fact, have constituted a worse option, especially for those Member States from our group, who are largely dependent on nuclear energy or aim at maximising incomes to the state budget. . Let me strongly underline that the option bundled with extra concessions, would have never been put on the table, without the earlier consolidation of like-minded countries based around Poland.

What does the TTIP represent in the eyes of European industry?

[Tweet "The TTIP must cover all sectors of business, including energy"]It represents a huge chance for the Polish and European economy. It is also important geopolitically. However, we do realise that, thanks to access to cheap energy, American companies have certain advantages over their competitors from Europe. That is why concerns raised by the Polish energy-intensive industries – including chemical companies – are, and will be, heard by the Polish government.

The TTIP must cover all sectors of business, including energy, and thus provide EU industry with access to competitively-priced resources. Obviously, the USA has its reasons to block exports of energy resources to Europe. However, we will not allow the final treaty to be more beneficial for the USA than the EU. Benefits must be equal for both sides. The TTIP must cover all sectors, and not only those that would be welcome by US industry. It is an all-or-nothing situation.

It is not the case that TTIP must be concluded at whatever price. It is also not the case that only overall macroeconomic benefits matter, as it may turn out that some regions and sectors may be hurt. However, it is important to realise that there is a lot we can do internally to strengthen our efficiency. When discussing climate policy, we have always underlined that we should not be too ambitious, when others do not wish to follow us. The TTIP proves now that we were right. We still have mechanisms, such as those designed against carbon leakage, to support our business and work places.

How do you envisage co-operation of industry organisations, like CEEP, with the Polish government?

It is a very good and mutually beneficial co-operation. I see it as a real dialogue, in which both sides truly wish to communicate with each other. This definitely allows us to make decisions that support Polish industry. I value the work of CEEP and the expertise it provides through its conferences and reports. I also encourage CEEP members in other countries to help us push forward our common interests on the EU agenda by working closely with their respective governments.

Interview with Rafał Trzaskowski, Poland’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, conducted by Jan Jujeczka CEEP Media Spokesperson