Hungary to hold 'energy summit' at EU helm

Hungary plans to concentrate on the big picture of EU energy policy as it takes on the EU's rotating presidency in January. Energy will feature prominently at the new presidency's first EU summit on 4 February.

Hungary plans to concentrate on the big picture of EU energy policy as it takes on the EU's rotating presidency in January. Energy will feature prominently at the new presidency's first EU summit on 4 February.

At the February summit, EU heads of state and government are to discuss the functioning of the European energy market.

Issues on the table will include energy infrastructure, promoting innovative energy technologies and coordinating the EU's energy policy towards third countries.

The meeting, which has already been dubbed an 'Energy Summit', will also include innovation aspects as concerns mount in Europe over growing competition from China on clean energy. Any urgent items could be added later on.
Defining strategies

Energy will also keep the Hungarian Presidency busy earlier in the year as it wants EU energy ministers to adopt joint conclusions on two major strategic documents when they meet on 28 February.

These are the EU's 'Energy 2020' strategy, which sets energy priorities for the next decade, and its energy infrastructure priorities for 2020 and beyond. Both were presented by the European Commission in November, and Hungary plans to kickstart discussions among member states in January in order to endorse the priorities in February.

Another important strategy-setting document that Hungary will drive forward is the EU's updated Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which the Commission will present in early March. The presidency hopes to endorse its recommendations at the second formal meeting of energy ministers in June.

The flow of medium-term strategies will be complemented with the start of discussions on the EU's 2050 energy roadmap.

The Commission is not expected to publish the document until autumn 2011, but the Hungarian Presidency intends to collect input from member states to channel it into the drafting process. This will be done at an informal ministerial meeting in Budapest on 2-3 May, where ministers are scheduled to debate a technical paper on various energy demand scenarios.

These discussions would touch upon long-term objectives and financing, one member state representative said.

Jason Anderson, head of climate and energy at WWF in Brussels, argued that the required momentum towards a sustainable energy system is still missing.

"Talks about talks and discussion papers dressed up as firm proposals cannot maintain indefinitely the illusion of progress," he said.

"Several factors lead to this malaise. The Commission has not yet provided complete plans nor adequately enforced existing laws. The integrated approach to energy and climate established in 2007 now risks being eroded," Anderson complained.

He added that the February summit itself already seems disconnected from broader policy development, calling for a "clear and comprehensive framework and commitments to drive forward on de-carbonising energy systems".
Little legislation in sight

One legislative battle that Hungary will take on is hammering out a compromise with the European Parliament on a regulation on energy market integrity and transparency.

The draft regulation, tabled by the European Commission on 8 December, seeks to thwart price manipulation and insider trading in wholesale gas and electricity markets.

The legislation would oblige traders and power companies to provide regulators with information on their transactions concerning wholesale energy products. Moreover, market participants would have to disclose exclusive and price-sensitive information before trades can take place.

There is potential to move forward quickly on this rather technical legislation, according to an EU member-state representative, who said that ideally the text could be agreed before the end of June. But much will depend on progress in the European Parliament, whose stance will become clearer in the New Year, he added.

Hungary will hold the six-month presidency of the Council of Ministers in the first half of 2011.

The key issues that Hungary wants to tackle during its presidency include energy, the Eastern Partnership, Croatia's accession to the EU and the Roma situation.

On the energy front, Hungary's term comes shortly after the European Commission outlined the EU's energy priorities up to 2020 and plans to improve energy infrastructure in the next two decades.