One of the objectives
of the single market in energy, as set out in a Commission's 1988 working
document is to introduce competition between the suppliers of energy
products, in particular to bring down production costs.
The need to take
account of the distinctive nature of the energy sector (to ensure security of
supply, to protect the environment and to defend consumer interests) means that
this is more complex than in other sectors.
The direct application
of the Treaties of Paris and Rome have made it possible to create a single
market in coal and petroleum products. However, the situation is more
complex for gas and electricity which have to be transported and distributed in
In order to do this,
the Commission has opted for an approach in stages.
The first stage
consisted of improving the transparency of gas and electricity prices
charged to end-users and arrangements for the transit of gas and electricity
between the main networks of the European Union.
The second stage,
which began in 1992, consisted of eliminating a number of restrictions on equal
access for undertakings in the area of hydrocarbons prospecting,
exploration and production and laying down common rules for the gas and
electricity markets which recommend, among other things, third-party access to
The third stage, which
has not yet begun, should enable the internal market to be completed in
all of its component parts.
The implementation of
the second stage regarding third-party access to the electricity network has
given rise to a lively debate. Even though the Member States were not opposed
to the principle of liberalising the transport and distribution system, two
conflicting concepts persisted: the argument in favour of a single buyer and the
argument extolling negotiated third-party access.
Finally, in December
1996, a compromise was reached which resulted in the adoption of the Directive
laying down common rules for the production, transport and distribution of
electricity. As for the discussions on gas, which had been bogged down since
1994 pending the outcome of the electricity deliberations, these were resumed
recently. An agreement on liberalisation in the gas supply sector, which is one
of several objectives under the Action Plan on the single market, was reached
on 8 December 1997.
Trans-European Energy Networks
The completion of the
internal market for energy is accompanied by measures aimed as strengthening
economic and social cohesion such as the creation of trans-European energy
Community guidelines in this area and on measures to create a favourable
context for the trans-European networks was adopted during 1996. The decisions
on the guidelines contain the list of projects of common interest in the trans-European
electricity and natural gas networks.
The introduction of
the trans-European energy networks also has an impact on relations with third
countries. Interconnections have been made with certain Mediterranean
In its White Paper of
13 December 1995 on an energy policy for the European Union, the
Commission put forward an energy framework based on the common objectives on
which energy policies must be focused.
Similarly, on 8
December 1997, the Commission presented to the Council a proposal for a
multi-annual framework programme grouping together all the various actions and
the means whereby they are financed in the context of an overall Community
With a view to
achieving these strategic objectives, the Commission has taken a series of
initiatives in the following areas:
- promotion of renewable energy sources,
- improvement of energy efficiency,
- promotion of the production of combined heat and power (CHP),
- the restructuring of the Community framework with regard to the taxation of energy products.