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The Warsaw Voice » Society » May 31, 2012
Opinion
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A Winding Road-map
May 31, 2012   
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Paweł Olechnowicz,President of the Board of Directors of Central Europe Energy Partners (CEEP)

For several years now, a crucial debate about the future of the European Union and its residents has been taking place across Europe. The subject has been attracting increasing attention in the media. It is not only about the future role of Europe in a rapidly changing world, but also about the living standards of each of us, from the perspective of retaining employment, a high level of social services, security as well as comfort of everyday life. It is all about energy.

The discussion framework derives from a highly important document, the “Energy Roadmap 2050.” Not only is it a map of an extremely winding road, but most of all, of a road through entirely new territories. What I find particularly alarming is unjustified inequality that may create tension in the future.

Central Europe Energy Partners (CEEP), an association co-founded by Grupa Lotos, at which I am honored to hold the position of President of the Board of Directors, consistently presents the view that Central Europe has to be part of the extensive European energy policy as an equal partner, with full consideration of its development needs. It is in our common interest to ensure that both parts of the continent are unified as soon as practicable into a sustainable and dynamic economic area.

A look at the “Energy Roadmap 2050” might suggest that some European institutions are unaware of some facts. In 2010, the average GDP per capita in the EU15 member states was 28,300 euros, while in Central Europe it amounted to 9,000 euros. In other words, GDP per capita in Central European countries is three times lower than in the EU15, and the difference has not decreased since 2005.

What decisions should then be taken in this state of imbalance? For me as a businessman it is obvious that the old member states should provide assistance to the new ones and make it easier for them to chase the pack.

The energy sector strategy outlined in the Roadmap does not seem to take that urgent need into consideration. It provides for a reduction of CO2 emissions in the European Union, without taking into consideration the different conditions prevailing in individual member states. I am convinced that the above concept will surely, though unintentionally, make the differences between the EU15 and the remaining member states even more dramatic. Nor can it be ruled out that the EU15 member states, now faced with major structural problems, may fall victim to the strategy set out in the “Energy Roadmap 2050.”

Business, like politics, is the art of realism. I am aware of the power of the lofty aspirations of eco-activists, supported, as a matter of fact, by large social groups. I realize that there is no perfect solution to the energy problems experienced by Europe but I am also convinced that solutions can be better or worse. Hanging on tightly to the CO2 emission reduction rate for the new EU member states is by far the worse concept.

In theory, it may be assumed that the imposition of such restrictions could improve the situation of our planet. However, it should be borne in mind that nobody has ever fully proved it. On the other hand, a slump in the economy and a deterioration in the standard of living of 100 million new Europeans, is a certainty. I deliberately emphasize the contrast in order to draw attention to the sensitivity of the matter and raise the awareness of how much foresight and reason is required to address it.

Competitiveness in the fast-changing world is Europe’s weak point. If the “World Economy Map 2050” were to be drawn, it would likely be dominated by China, India, Brazil, Russia and Indonesia as the key players. To be treated on an equal footing with the other players, Europe must be competitive. And this will not happen if “extremely expensive energy” constitutes the basis for the calculation of everything it produces. Should the objectives defined in the energy strategy be accomplished, not only will expensive energy hinder Europe’s growth but it will become a hotbed of discontent or even social unrest in Central European countries bound by the proposed exorbitant CO2 emission prices. And this does not present a picture of an area capable of being effectively competitive on a global basis in 40 years’ time.

The average CO2 emission rate per capita in Central Europe is significantly lower than in the EU15. And the same goes for the energy consumption ratio. In 1990-2009 Central European countries reduced their CO2 emissions far more than the EU15 member states. Why? Because political transformation slowed the economy.

The effectiveness, speed and courage of the changes brought about by Poland’s Solidarity movement filled everyone with admiration. It would be highly unjust for the countries in our part of the continent to be punished for their contribution to the emergence of a free world 30 years ago, which would exactly be the effect of imposing stringent standards in respect of CO2 emission reduction.

We will surely not catch up with the western part of the continent unless a realistic CO2 policy, taking into account historical differences, development needs and energy resources (coal, natural gas, and oil, in addition to hydrological and climatic conditions etc.), is adopted by the European Union. Instead of evening out both parts of Europe, we would end up with constant tension and a growing imbalance. And such a situation would not make the fight for a strong global position easier.

We are aware of the realities and the necessity to work out reasonable compromises. In December 2011, CEEP held a conference in Berlin examining the technology for carbon capture and storage. We worked on a very reasonable assumption that reliance on domestic sources of energy, those which are there and not those which might be identified, is key for sustainable energy production as well as improvement of the EU’s security in this respect.

The position adopted by CEEP is clear and reasonable: we should use local energy sources through the application of state-of-the-art technologies in compliance with the highest environmental protection standards.

(abridged)
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