When the Founding Fathers of modern Europe signed the Treaties of Rome in 1957, they created the 'European Atomic Energy Community' and the 'European Economic Community' which aimed to strengthen peace through economic cooperation, amongst countries that had just come out of a World War that had destroyed their societies and left their economies in ruin. A few years before, in 1951, six European countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands - had created the European Coal and Steel Community to manage their heavy industries collectively. From the very beginning, energy and economic cooperation were the building blocks of what would later become the EU.
Five decades later, with 27 member-states, 500 million prosperous inhabitants living in peace, and the world's largest economy, the Union celebrates its achievements, but also reflects on its future. A cloud of doubt has gathered over the continent, after the Iraq War caused a rift in the Union between those who were right and those who were wrong, and after the French people voted 'Non' during the infamous referendum on the European Constitution. People in France think the EU has become too liberal economically while its social unification is lagging behind. They feel that Europe's unique social models are threatened by the forces of globalisation - and the Constitution as it was presented to them reinforced that sense of danger. It's a perception shared by many European citizens.
Meanwhile, European leaders have understood the message. The Berlin Declaration that will mark the EU's 50th anniversary, is expected to give fresh impetus to the stalled constitutional debate. Not only will it outline the EU's historic achievements in terms of peace, freedom, prosperity and solidarity, it will stress the need to defend a more social Europe in negotiations over its future.
Former President Jacques Delors understands this sense of crisis and calls for the EU to be more ambitious in its attempts to unite citizens behind a new vision. On the question what urgent measures should be undertaken in order achieve this, Delors recommends the creation of a genuine European Energy Community, modelled on the concept of the early European Coal and Steel Community.
He said that such a European Energy Community will contribute to strengthening a feeling of unity as it allows Europeans to create an entirely new kind of economy, one based on sustainability, hyper-efficiency, clean energy, and environmental responsibility. According to Delors, climate change, low carbon energy and a green future are building blocks of a unifying discourse the underlying values of which are shared by many citizens:
biomass :: bioenergy :: biofuels :: energy :: climate change :: renewables :: energy security :: sustainability :: EU ::
At first sight it might seem strange to choose energy, of all things, as the core of a new collective vision for the future of Europe. But on further reflection it may make sense: energy touches the kernel of the way our societies work - economically, socially, (geo)politically and environmentally. By radically changing this kernel, all the issues connected to it take on a new color as well.
The abundance of fossil fuels was the core of an economic model that made an unsustainable consumer lifestyle possible for a while (the 20th century). This paradigm implied an industrial model and a mentality in which nature, people and social relations are expendable, exchangeable and depletable. Climate change proves that, at least when it comes to nature, such a vision is disastrous for our future.
Politically and geopolitically speaking, the fossil fuel paradigm has fueled some of the world's dirtiest conflicts. The war in Iraq is just the latest example - global terrorism its consequence.
So by radically rethinking our energy paradigm, we are forced to rethink our productive, economic and social relations - on a European and on a global scale. This is why Delors' suggestion for a European Energy Community goes beyond energy and hints at new mentalities, new modes of production and consumption, and a more holistic, sustainable relation with nature.
If Europe were to speak with one voice on the international stage, it would also be much stronger to convince others to join the attempts to create a greener and climate secure future.
A European Energy Community would have very practical uses as it would strengthen the Union's positions in talks with the producers of oil and gas, with rapidly emerging economies, and with the U.S. over climate change, sustainable development and a shift towards a low carbon economy. In an era of volatile energy prices, geopolitical troubles, and the inconvenient truth of global warming, the idea is most welcome.
MPT: Jacques Delors suggests creation of European Energy Community - March 21, 2007
RTBF: Jacques Delors intarissable sur l’Europe - March 17, 2007
Forum de Paris: L’Europe par l’énergie - Jan 11, 2007
Le Monde, L’énergie pour relancer l’Europe - Nov. 7, 2006.