ENERGY : COMMISSION CONSULTS ON EXTERNAL DIMENSION OF EU POLICY.

The European Commission is consulting, until 21 February, on the external dimension of the Union's energy policy. Whilst seeking interested parties' views on possible priorities and new initiatives, the Commission also lays down, in the accompanying consultation document and ten questions, some of its assumptions, at least as to where problems may lie. These are clearly based on (worrying) future energy import trends.

The consultation document begins by stating what officials see as obvious. Fulfilling EU policy on energy, as set in Article 194 of the treaty, requires an external aspect. This is understood much wider than the high' politics of EU leaders individually bargaining with Russian counterparts for energy deals. And with over half of energy now consumed in the EU coming from third countries, the external dimension to energy policy is clearly ever more fundamental.

The share of non-EU energy supply is steadily increasing, set to reach some 70% by 2030. Additionally, so-called rare earths, special material used in renewable, traditional and advanced energy technologies, make energy diplomacy even more difficult. On the other hand, energy efficient and low-carbon technologies represent a very large export growth potential for European industry. Further challenges come from emerging economies, increasingly driving global energy demand. Added to this, the international climate agenda calls for ever greater resource efficiency and low-carbon energy solutions.

Questions posed are aimed at identifying priorities and possible initiatives that could be proposed. Should, for instance, the EU promote further energy market integration and regulatory convergence with its neighbours? Should there be a differentiated approach between the Eastern and Southern neighbours or between countries? Officials also want to know what concrete actions the EU should take in terms of greater investment in renewables in neighbouring countries.

As for strengthening partnerships with energy suppliers and transit countries, interested parties are quizzed on possible measures to reinforce partnerships with key suppliers of hydrocarbons and...

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