The Da WEC Code
Five years ago, in November 2007, European Energy Review was launched - at the triennial Congress of the World Energy Council in Rome. Today we publish an interview I had with WEC’s Secretary-General, Christoph Frei, in which he explains what this slightly mysterious worldwide energy network is all about. "We try to keep the political stakes low."
Writing a story about the World Energy Council, somehow reminded me of Stalin’s famous jibe at the Catholic Church. "The Pope? How many divisions has he got"? the Soviet dictator once sneered.
Well, we know how that little quarrel ended. The Catholic Church is still around, the Soviet Union is not.
What Stalin apparently did not understand was that the Pope had something that is mightier than military power: ideas. The pen, as they say, is mightier than the sword.
The World Energy Council or WEC (pronounced "weck") does not have "divisions" either. That is to say, it has no political or economic or legal teeth. It only has convictions. It is, essentially, nothing more or less than a network of people. People who share the idea that energy is important. More specifically, that it is important that energy is sustainable, affordable and secure for the global population.
It is also, like the Catholic Church, an extensive network. It consists of no less than 93 national organisations - i.e. from virtually all countries in the world. And it is quite old - for an international organisation anyway. The WEC was established in 1923 - at a time when there was a growing awareness that energy, in particular electricity, was crucial to the economic development of the world. (It was no coincidence that Stalin’s predecessor, Lenin, in the 1920s equated Communism with "Soviet government plus electrification".) Certainly the importance of energy has not diminished today.
But because it is so large, and old, and because it does not seem to have real power, outside observers may well be skeptical about the WEC. They may wonder, how effective is it really? How influential? Do these WEC-people just sit around and talk and put out reports? Whom do they represent? How genuinely idealistic are they? Don’t they have a hidden agenda somewhere? And, if they have been around for so long, how come they are not really all that well known, certainly not outside energy circles?
As a matter of fact, these were exactly the questions I had when I travelled to London recently to interview the WEC’s Secretary-General, Christoph Frei, at the organisation’s nicely located office near Piccadilly Circus. This led to a very candid conversation, in which Frei, a Swiss national who formerly worked for another world famous network organisation - the World Economic Forum in Davos - explained what the WEC does, how it works and what its ambitions are. It was a fascinating story of a behind-the-scenes organisation, which seeks to achieve its ideals by, as Frei put it, "depoliticising" energy issues whenever it engages with world leaders - which it does frequently.
The timing of the interview, I might add, is rather fortuitous. Not just because WEC is holding its annual Executive Assembly meeting in Monaco this week, but for us at European Energy Review (EER) as well, as we are celebrating our fifth anniversary this month. As it happens, EER was launched in November 2007, at the World Energy Congress, the WEC’s major triennial get-together, which, was then held in - what a coincidence - Rome.