Content updated 14 Februrary 2023

Energy Union

In 2015, the European Council set out the first steps of an Energy Union, which is intended to function as an umbrella that brings together all the elements of energy policy into a coherent, integrated approach. Now the expression “energy efficiency first” has become common parlance. 

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 then 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.”

The Commission published its Communication on Energy Union in 2015.  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.


The Regulation on the governance of the energy union and climate action entered into force on 24 December 2018 as part of the Clean Energy for All Europeans package.

The regulation emphasises the importance of meeting the EU's 2030 energy and climate targets. It also sets out how EU countries and the Commission should work together, and how individual countries should cooperate, taking into account the fact that different countries can contribute to the energy union in different ways.

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.