Is Europe Truly Unified?

October 27, 2015 | 00:00
Is Europe Truly Unified?
Is Europe Truly Unified?
As the 28 separate nations within the European Union (EU) move toward a shared energy market, it is critical to examine the challenges and opportunities present. A recent report titled An Energy (Dis)Union: Challenges and Opportunities in Europe’s Emerging Energy Market analyses the rich European history, economics, and varying politics that have stalled the development of a common internal market, known as the energy union and provides policy recommendations for future progress in European energy and infrastructure systems.

Notwithstanding its share of challenges and occasional disagreements, the EU represents a strong coalition that has been consistently dedicated to continental cooperation. An expansion of these values to the European energy market would translate into a stable internal market system, the ability to source energy efficiently, and ensure an adequate energy supply across the European grid. Many of the EU’s present and ambitious goals include lowering carbon emissions, efficient interconnections, less expensive energy for consumers, and improved overall energy security. While many steps and plans have been made to achieve these aspirations over the last 15 years, a multitude of political objectives has impeded these goals from coming to fruition.

Many past and present energy union plans include a need for efficiency and environmental protections, however conflicting strategies have created a dichotomy that has prevented tangible progress. While natural gas would couple reduced energy costs with improved efficiency, the EU’s priority appears to be on renewable energy sources, including wind and solar energies. In addition, its 2015 goals call for final implementation by 2020; an unrealistic goal without decades of prior investments in renewable energy infrastructure. This insistence on attempting long-term plans in a short amount of time has created missed deadlines and confusion.

Due to the diversified history of European states, the EU is comprised of varying levels of economic development, political attitudes, and social dynamics, creating challenges for cooperation. Many countries continue to rely on established, yet outdated forms of energy, which create environmental pollutants and impede potential infrastructure integration. Beyond individual states, multiple regions within Europe hold different values and visions for the future of energy and infrastructure.

Policy recommendations for the successful integration of a common energy market system within the EU include:

  1. Creation of a single institution dedicated to the promulgation, implementation and oversight of energy policy, and the integration of infrastructure; 

  2. Increased financing for energy infrastructure and connectivity;

  3. Enforcement of integration deadlines; 

  4. Full exploitation of Europe’s geographical layout to maximize production of 
renewable energy; 

  5. Creation of interconnected regional grids; 

  6. Acknowledgment and usage of natural gas as a significant bridge fuel.

In order to achieve a shared market system that emulates other global interconnections, EU members must define their goals and synchronize priorities. An undeniable hindrance to the achievement of the plan is the call for sweeping policies at the continental level without putting in place a mechanism to assist states in handling issues that may arise from gearing up for grid integration. Despite these challenges, the EU has persevered through similar cultural and political conflicts, and will likely succeed in this endeavor, but only with the realization that an energy union requires each member to fully commitment to such an undertaking.

Brigham A. McCown is the Chairman and CEO of Nouveau, Inc., a Washington, DC-based advisory firm and is also the Chairman and CEO of the U.S.-based non-profit, Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii). He previously held various senior executive posts in the U.S. Government, including a leading role regulating the nation's energy and dangerous goods transportation. Brigham is also an accomplished attorney, having practiced international trade, environmental, energy, and transport law. He previously served as the federal government’s top commercial truck and bus attorney, and was responsible for implementation of the surface provisions of The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico. In addition to his federal civilian service, he completed twenty-nine years of active and reserve service as a commissioned naval officer and naval aviator. Brigham earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University (Diplomacy & Foreign Affairs/EU Security), earned a Juris Doctor from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law, and has twice appeared before the United States Supreme Court.

Mr. McCown recently compiled a report on the European Energy Union titled
An Energy (Dis)Union: Challenges and Opportunities in Europe’s Emerging Energy Market. The report analyzes issues such as historical implications, contemporary economics, and politics, which impact the creation of a European energy union. This document serves as a preview outlining several of the major issues raised in the report and the policy recommendations within it. More information regarding the energy union, its importance, and a discussion of the recommendations will be available in the upcoming report. For more information or inquiries on the report, please contact Ashley VanBuskirk at

Image: European Union Flags. By Thijs ter Haar. CC-BY lincence
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