We need to move beyond the East West division inside the European Union

November 1, 2012 | 00:00

We need to move beyond the East-West division inside the European Union

In a recent article in European Energy Review, Friedbert Pflüger criticizes the EU Energy Roadmap 2050 and EU climate and energy policy in general for not making any distinction between "East" and "West" Europe, or what he calls the EU-11 versus the EU-15. According to Pflüger, when it comes to climate and energy, special considerations should apply to Eastern Europe. However, his argument is quite misleading, as there are huge differences among East European countries, which make any simplistic East-West divide misplaced. What we really need is a common energy and climate strategy that ultimately applies equally across the EU.

To begin with, it should be noted that Pflüger's article, "European climate policy should distinguish between East and West", contains some factual errors, such as confusing the European Council with the Council of Europe or failing to clarify that the new category of ‘EU 11’ (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) also includes a non-EU country, namely Croatia. Much more problematic, however, is the obvious bias of the article which sites extensively an Ernst & Young report commissioned by the Central Europe Energy Partners (CEEP).1 Here we need to mention that the 11 founding members of the CEEP are primarily Polish companies with high stakes in Poland’s coal industry and include but one company specializing in solar energy. Even more interesting is the fact that Friedbert Pflüger, as stated at the end of the article, serves as senior advisor of the CEEP, although he relies on his academic affiliation at King’s College London to validate his views.

The article claims to argue for a differential energy policy approach for the EU-11 (I prefer the term Central and Eastern Europe – CEE), but what it really does is advocate for a preferential treatment of Poland’s coal industry, using the wider framework simply to justify this demand. An argument for a preferential treatment of Poland’s coal industry might be valid in itself, but what I do not understand is why the author goes to such lengths to present it as an issue of equal concern to all members of the so-called EU-11. After all, upon accession, Poland was able to negotiate better terms for EU’s common agricultural policy on grounds of the relatively larger size of its agricultural sector and could realistically attempt the same strategy with the EU’s common energy policy. Instead, Professor Pflüger attempts to argue on behalf of all new member states providing data that I find problematic if not outright misleading.

For example, he argues that the EU-11 have a “significantly higher share of coal than in the EU-15 (almost 36% compared to only 12.3%, for the EU-15)”. We assume that the figures refer to the share of coal power generation and not to coal deposits, which remains unclear in his article. He then provides his own charts comparing the energy mix of the EU-11 and the EU-15. What we do not see is a breakdown of the figures which would reveal, for example, that 92% of electricity in Poland and 59% in the Czech Republic2 is generated by coal, whereas Lithuania3 and Latvia4 hardly use any coal and less then 15% of electricity in Slovakia and Slovenia is coal generated. At the same time, Germany generates 42%5 of its electricity with coal and Greece 60%6 . These more detailed figures make it hard to argue for a differential approach towards the “East” because of its much larger share of coal generated energy than the “West.”

Similarly problematic is the statement that the EU-11 have “a lower share of nuclear power (8.5% versus 14.4%)”. Bulgaria, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia have substantial shares of their electricity generated by nuclear power plants. However, Poland does not have any nuclear power. France’s electricity system relies predominantly on nuclear power. Austria, Italy, Portugal and other Western countries do not have any nuclear power. Germany will decommission all its nuclear power plants. Poland is planning to build new. Again, the East-West divide here remains unconvincing.

The whole notion of the energy related similarities between the CEE countries resembles the common practice of lumping those countries together because of their “common” communist past, which by the way is very different, an argument I would refrain from elaborating on here. Without a question, Central and East European countries have among themselves very different economies, energy mixes, renewables potential, grid connections, climate change awareness, and other factors that usually determine a national energy policy.

The group of the CEE countries includes some of the most carbon intensive economies in the EU (Czech Republic) and some of the least carbon intensive economies (Latvia). According to the 2011 Eurobarometer survey, the CEE region combines countries with the highest levels of concern about the seriousness of climate change as measured by Eurobarometer polls (Slovakia and Hungary) and the country with the lowest concern (Estonia)7 ; some of the lowest 2020 Renewable Energy Sources targets (Czech Republic and Hungary 13%) and some of the highest (Latvia 40%)8 .

Among the CEE countries are also some of the countries with highest solar irradiation in Europe (Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia) and some with the lowest (the Baltic states and Poland). The electricity price in Bulgaria is roughly half of that in Slovakia. The energy dependency of the CEE countries is also very different with Romania being the least energy dependent within the EU next to Denmark (Eurostat, May 2011) and Bulgaria which fears a cold winter in the event that an agreement with Russia’s Gazprom is not signed in time. The grid connections (with the Baltic States still closely connected to the remains of the former Soviet grid) are also very different.

The differences between the CEE countries go much beyond the more directly energy related issues. Have a look, for instance, in the latest Global Competitiveness Report9 and you will find further confirmation on how different the CEE countries are. Countries like Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia are in one group (innovation driven) together with countries like Austria, France or Denmark. Poland, Estonia, Hungary are in a different group. In terms of macroeconomic environment Bulgaria (in 31st position) is much nearer to Germany (30th) and Denmark (32nd) than to Poland in 72nd position which is closer to Belgium (66th) or France (68th).
The comparisons can go on and on. We don’t even have to go into historical and cultural differences, corruption and transparency, performance during the economic crisis, political stability, territory, population, geopolitical affiliation, etc. etc. in order to see how flawed the logic of reviving, as opposed to eliminating, past divisions is.

What is important however is that the newer EU member states should not be trapped in clichés and categories that hardly work in their national economic interest. They are different, like all EU countries, and from the position of that diversity they can best contribute to the European unity including to a more integrated and much needed common European energy strategy.


Dr. Emilia Zankina is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at the American University in Bulgaria where she also teaches public policy. She holds a PhD from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh, where she also served as Associate Director of the Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies.


1 http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/Central_Europe_Energy_Partners_brochure/$FILE/CEEP%20brochure.pdf
2 World Coal Institute: http://www.worldcoal.org/bin/pdf/original_pdf_file/coal_climate_change_css_report(03_06_2009).pdf
3 European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/doc/factsheets/mix/mix_lt_en.pdf
4 European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/doc/factsheets/mix/mix_lv_en.pdf  
5 Euracoal: http://www.euracoal.be/pages/layout1sp.php?idpage=72  
6 European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/doc/factsheets/mix/mix_el_en.pdf  
7 Answering the question "And how serious a problem do you think climate change is at this moment?" on the scale from 1 to 10. Eurobarometer: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_372_en.pdf, p 15.
8 Europe's Energy Portal: http://www.energy.eu/#renewable  
9 The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, 2012: http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-report-2012-2013/  


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