The Power of a European Energy Union

DUBLIN – One of the top priorities established by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of his election last summer was the creation of a European energy union. He was right to do so. Done properly, a more cohesive energy policy could achieve three strategic objectives simultaneously.

By coordinating research and investment, encouraging conservation, and integrating energy markets, an energy union would help fight climate change, provide Europe with a much needed economic stimulus, and protect the continent from supply shocks, such as those caused by the crises in North Africa and Ukraine.

Of course, the European Union's ability to act is dependent on the willingness of its member states; and, though some of the continent's leaders have championed the initiative, others have proved less enthusiastic. A crucial test of their collective resolve will be whether they are willing to support key infrastructure projects that deliver on all three objectives.

One good example of such a project is the North Sea Countries' Offshore Grid Initiative, a proposal that would link offshore wind farms to a new regional grid, and allow countries to balance variable power supplies across borders. The idea – first advanced in a 2009 memorandum of understanding signed by nine EU member states and Norway – has enormous potential; by 2030, North Sea winds could provide Europe with 10% of its electricity – carbon-free. But if the project is to go forward, it urgently needs a political mandate.