Energy Union

The Energy Union, is based on the three long-established objectives of EU energy policy: security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness. To reach these objectives, the Energy Union focuses on five mutually supportive dimensions: 1) energy security; 2) the internal energy market; 3) energy efficiency; 4) decarbonisation of the economy; and 5) research, innovation and competitiveness.

Energy efficiency has a role to play in all five dimensions.  European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said at the EU Sustainable Energy Week in June 2015 that he and the Energy Commissioner Arias Cañete would “establish and promote ‘energy efficiency first’ as a fundamental principle of the Energy Union and with it the moderation of demand. This is why we have invited Member States to give energy efficiency primary consideration in their policies and to consider energy efficiency as an energy source in its own right.”

Now the expression “energy efficiency first” has become common parlance. This is a welcome recognition that energy efficiency has delivered important savings and has the potential for even greater improvements in the future.

The Commission published its Communication on Energy Union on February 25, 2015 [COM (2015) 80 final].  This Communication calls for a fundamental transformation of Europe's energy system: to speak globally with one voice; to, inter alia, build a sustainable, low-carbon and climate-friendly economy that is designed to last; where energy flows freely across borders, based on competition and the best possible use of resources; with citizens at its core, where citizens take ownership of the energy transition, benefit from new technologies to reduce their bills, participate actively in the market, and where vulnerable consumers are protected.  These represent a good vision for Europe.  Importantly, the Communication places energy efficiency firmly within its approach.

All five dimensions include energy efficiency to some extent.  For example, it refers to the important role that energy efficiency plays in protecting vulnerable consumers and mentions that energy poverty can be tackled through a combination of measures, mainly in the social field and within the competence of authorities on the national, regional or local levels.  It refers to the importance in moderating energy demand through energy efficiency improvements. It explains how this can be done in the buildings sector and in transport.


Governance is an important area dealt with by the Energy Union. According to the Communication, (pp. 17-18) the governance process should serve the following purposes:

  • bring together energy and climate actions as well as actions in other relevant policy areas, leading to more and longer-term policy coherence. This also provides long term certainty and guidance for investors;
  • secure implementation of the internal energy market and the delivery of the 2030 energy and climate framework, notably the implementation of the agreed 2030 targets on renewables, energy efficiency, non-Emissions Trading System and interconnections;
  • streamline current planning and reporting requirements, avoiding unnecessary administrative burden;
  • involve an energy dialogue with stakeholders to inform policy-making and support active engagement in managing the energy transition;
  • deepen the cooperation between Member States, including at the regional level, and with the Commission;
  • improve the data, analysis and intelligence needed to underpin the Energy Union by pooling the relevant knowledge and making it easily accessible to all stakeholders, and
  • annual reporting to the European Parliament and the Council on the state of the Energy Union in order to address the key issues and steer the policy debate.

Research and Innovation ambitions

For the research and innovation approach, improved energy efficiency is one of the core priorities. According to the communication (page 16) actions should be grouped around the following four core priorities, to which Member States and the Commission would commit to:

  • Being the world leader in developing the next generation of renewable energy technologies, including environment-friendly production and use of biomass and biofuels, together with energy storage;
  • Facilitating the participation of consumers in the energy transition through smart grids, smart home appliances, smart cities, and home automation systems;
  • Efficient energy systems, and harnessing technology to make the building stock energy neutral; and
  • More sustainable transport systems that develop and deploy at large scale innovative technologies and services to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The continuing process

Reviewing the Communication, the European Commission will review all relevant energy efficiency legislation and will propose revisions, where needed, to underpin the 2030 target. This indicative target calls for a 27% improvement by 2030.  The Communication confirms that this target will be reviewed by 2020 and states that the Commission would prefer a 30% target.  This is coming closer to the recent eceee report that  stated that a more ambitious energy efficiency targets good for climate, jobs, energy security and the economy.

On 19 March, 2015, the European Council met to set out the first steps of an Energy Union. The European Council strengthened its commitment for affordable, secure and sustainable energy within the EU. The discussion focused on energy security and transparency in gas contracts. All gas contracts must be in line with EU law, more transparent and should not negatively impact Europe's energy security. EU leaders also agreed to:

  • develop innovative strategies for a new generation of renewable energies and increase energy efficiency
  • step-up the EU climate diplomacy for a successful Paris climate summit in December 2015.

The Energy Union will be the new umbrella that brings together all the elements of energy policy into a coherent, integrated approach. There will be more decisions that will affect all aspects of energy policy, including energy efficiency – the first fuel. Mr. Šefčovič, in particular, has been visiting all Member States to get their views and endorsement of the Energy Union.

eceee resources

Columnist Hans Nilsson: Hello Edison – the European Energy Union may save your original business model!

”More ambitious energy efficiency targets good for climate, jobs, energy security and the economy”. See press release. Download report.

EU resources

DG Energy page on the Energy Union

Press release 25 February 2015

Two decades of policy that led to today’s Energy Union

Energy policies and its energy efficiency sub-set have significantly evolved over the past two decades. EU energy policy was traditionally confined to coal and nuclear energy, deriving its authority from the treaties on the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and on the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). But since the 1990s, energy policy has evolved because of energy security and climate change concerns, in particular.

It was not until the Treaty of Lisbon, entering into force in December 2009, that there was a separate constitutional chapter on energy.  Until then, except for coal and nuclear, energy policy was addressed through other fields of competence – competitiveness, environment, etc. Successive attempts by the European Commission and some member states, supported by the European Parliament, to introduce an energy chapter into the EC Treaty consistently failed due to the general resistance of member states to granting further energy competencies to the EU.

Art. 194(1) of the Lisbon Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU or ‘Lisbon Treaty’) sets out the four main aims of the EU’s energy policy:

  • to ensure the functioning of the energy market;
  • to ensure the security of supply in the Union;
  • to promote energy efficiency and energy saving, and develop new and renewable forms of energy; and
  • to promote the interconnection of energy networks.