I recently heard that a senior spokesman for the UK energy industry had suggested that the success of “smaller parties” in the forthcoming Euro elections could be problematic for the energy industry. I took this as a veiled reference to UKIP. The quote, as I’ve been given it, reads: “An outcome which would undoubtedly be difficult would be if the European Parliament becomes composed of a large number of smaller parties, because when that happens, coherency is not as good. Although energy is a competency which still sits with separate countries, there is a chunk that is decided on a pan-European basis which we could see get in quite a muddle.”
Asked to comment, I had several observations (no surprise there!). First, what’s a “smaller party”? With hard work and a fair wind, UKIP may well win the largest share of the UK vote, and be the largest UK delegation. Not a “smaller party” at all in Brussels terms.
Secondly, the way the EP operates drives us all into groups, whether we like it or not. So we will still have groups, which should help to avoid the “muddle”, and deliver a degree of coherence.
Third, the overall effect of the election will be that we have many more Eurosceptic MEPs – perhaps 20 to 25% instead of the current (roughly) 10%. And often euro-sceptics turn out to be climate sceptics as well. They are disinclined to accept received wisdom without question. On energy issues, they may well find themselves voting broadly together, even if not formally in the same group.
Fourth, any increase in climate sceptics is likely to support the Commission in its tentative steps back from climate extremism to something more akin to common sense. For too many years they’ve talked about three priorities, competitiveness, security of supply, and “sustainability” (though renewables are not sustainable). But in reality the policy has been geared entirely to (what they call) sustainability – in other words, climate alarmism and green hysteria – and they’ve ignored competitiveness and security of supply. The anticipated changes in the parliament will simply reinforce the new direction of travel towards a more balanced approach, with more emphasis on security of supply and affordability. Indeed one of the silver linings from the Ukraine crisis is a new urgency in the hunt for indigenous energy resources, and especially shale gas, in Europe.
So – if energy companies are interested in being rent-seekers and subsidy junkies, suckling on the teat of the tax-payer, they won’t like the outcome. But if they’re interested in running a successful business ensuring a supply of secure and affordable energy, things are looking up.
Until the question arose, I hadn’t thought of this point. But the probable outcome of the May election – across Europe, not just in the UK – will not be limited simply to gains for freedom and democracy. There could well be big benefits for energy policy too. Roll on May 22nd.