Friday, 3 October 2008

Scotland and Europe's energy future

With me being back in Edinburgh this week I was invited by the University of Edinburgh's Europa Institute to take part in a seminar last night on Scotland and EU energy policy that was also organised in association with the Scottish Government. The seminar in itself is timely given the current inquiry of the Scottish Parliament's Energy Committee which is looking at delivering and determining Scotland's energy future. Since there is much overlap with the energy debate in Brussels about Europe's energy future and where Scotland's energy future fits within that debate I'm working closely with our SNP colleagues on the Committee to ensure they are fully up to speed with what is going on out here.

Such a seminar was an initial attempt to bring together a number of key stakeholders in Scotland's energy sector with policy makers in the Scottish Government and academics who have an interest in this area to discuss the challenges they consider are posed to Scotland as the EU's action in the area of energy policy develops. Essentially this was a good opportunity for me to hear from stakeholders how they think EU energy policy should best be developed to advance Scotland's interests.

The implications for Scotland are clear. Europe is looking for alternatives and Scotland has the glittering prize with its vast renewable energy potential. Scotland remains one of the EU’s leading nations in developing green energy technologies and is Europe’s green energy powerhouse. As an important provider and supplier of energy, there is much Scotland can and should contribute to EU-level discussions to ensure a sustainable energy future that is good for Scotland and good for the EU in the long term. Any future EU energy policy must be suitable to Scotland's distinctive energy interests and our unique energy resources. Given the global interdependency of Scotland’s energy market, the development of a European energy policy is of key strategic importance to Scotland. We have to ensure that any proposed European legislation in this area is appropriate for Scotland’s commercial, scientific and energy interests

Much of my discussion focused on where the EU energy package is in Brussels, what the legislative process within the Parliament involves and what the opportunities are for engaging with the EP and its Energy and Environment Committees.

By way of example I showed what was possible to achieve when we have a clear Scottish interest at stake - the issue being the implications the Commission's plans for splitting energy producers from their distribution network ("ownership unbundling") will have for Scotland's energy market model - and how this was pushed in both the Council and the EP to protect Scotland's key interests in this regard even in an area like energy regulation which is a reserved matter for London.

I tried to emphasise the point that regardless of what the outcome is in the Parliament, if you don’t put your case, no one will know. We need to know from back home how draft European legislation could potentially affect Scottish interests as then makes it much easier for us to know exactly what the problem is and to then do something about it. Even if we don’t always win the argument in the EP, that’s not to say we can’t win it elsewhere and we have to use all avenues of influence to build the necessary support behind our position. But the real crux is that Scotland needs to have a view and then convey that view to Brussels and London.

As Europe's green energy powerhouse it is absolutely vital that Scotland's distinctive energy challenges and opportunities are recognised within the energy discussions across here.

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