The Belgian Presidency: Protect, Strengthen & Prepare, also in the field of energy

Teresa Ribera Rodríguez (Third Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, Spain), Tinne Van Der Straeten (Minister for Energy, Belgium), Miriam Dalli (Minister for the Environment, Energy and Regeneration of the Grand Harbour, Malta) Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, (pictured)

Spring 2024

Andrey Novakov, MEPThe Belgian Presidency occurs during a crucial year for the European Union and the rest of the world. More than 50% of global voters will express their suffrage. Will this have an impact on the trajectory of climate and energy policies of our international partners? Without a doubt!
The world may be hanging on the verdict of the ballot boxes, but one thing seems undeniable: 'Nothing can stop the energy transition.' Those are not the words of the Minister of Energy in Belgium, but the words of John Kerry, the US Special Envoy for Climate, spoken during the IEA's ministerial meeting in Paris last February.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has affected the gas supply to the European Union, impacting energy prices. Coupled with increasingly frequent extreme weather events in Europe, this situation underscores the urgent need to secure our energy supply, ensure accessibility, and accelerate the transition to sustainable and climate-respectful energy for our economy.

The Belgian Presidency is based on three values that take this evolving world as a starting point: Protect, Strengthen, and Prepare.

These values are also applied in energy policy. By becoming more autonomous and protecting our citizens against abrupt price increases. By strengthening the markets and energy infrastructure of the EU. By preparing a common European energy market.

Five Belgian priorities
In the context, five priorities of the Belgian Presidency for energy have been defined.

Belgium started its Presidency with a focus on renovation. In Europe, buildings account for over a third of greenhouse gas emissions. It is essential to reduce these emissions, either through greater energy efficiency or reduced energy consumption, to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

The Belgian Presidency organized an event in Brussels in January to stimulate discussions on the best way to overcome remaining obstacles to achieve effective deployment of the renovation wave.

As a second priority, Belgium has chosen to promote European excellence in radioisotopes. Therefore, the Belgian Presidency is committed to securing the supply of medical radioisotopes and enhancing European leadership in the production, development, and sustainable reimbursement of these materials.

With its third priority, Belgium wants to facilitate international hydrogen trade. Belgium is the first country to establish a hydrogen law. Belgium has the second longest hydrogen pipeline network in the world. Furthermore, its ports will be vital to supply Belgium and the rest of the EU with a sufficient amount of hydrogen in the future.

The Belgian Presidency is committed to push the growing international trade in hydrogen, including its derivatives, and aspires to create a liquid market. To achieve this goal, the Presidency will focus on promoting a credible certification system and market platforms, ensuring transparency to trigger the needed investments and make sure the financing tools are fit for purpose.

As Europeans, we must ensure that this European wind energy safely reaches our shores and the homes of all Europeans.

The fourth priority of the Belgian Presidency is to provide renewable offshore wind energy to all. European maritime basins will become an integral part of the future European energy network. The goal is to adopt Council conclusions on integrated cross-border onshore and offshore infrastructure benefiting all of Europe, including landlocked countries, by sharing best practices among Member States and identifying action points for future Commission initiatives.

Last but not least, Belgium has placed cross-border energy infrastructure as the fifth priority. The aim of the Belgian Presidency is to advance sustainable energy infrastructure. The transition to a sustainable energy system costeffectively requires both existing and new infrastructure, including network infrastructure, facilities for hydrogen importation, and CO2 transport.

In working on the theme of networks, we reconcile everyone
With the considerable growth of renewable sources, a key question arises: will the networks be ready in time to support the energy transition? The Global Energy Outlook 2023 addresses this concern. It indicates that "significant improvements in networks are needed in all scenarios to accommodate the accelerated pace of electrification and the rapid expansion of renewable energy sources."

During the six months of the Presidency, Belgium is working tirelessly to ensure that our European ambitions for renewable energy do not outpace our plans in terms of network infrastructure. Because networks are at the heart of the energy system. Cross-border energy infrastructure promotes competitive energy markets. It enables the free flow of electricity across borders, enhancing competition in the market.

Cross-border energy infrastructure improves the stability and reliability of electricity supply. It facilitates smooth electricity exchange, reducing the risk of outages and power cuts. And most importantly, interconnected networks facilitate the sharing of energy resources across borders. Regions with surpluses of renewable sources such as wind or solar energy can export their excess to areas with higher demand.

As Europeans, we must ensure that this European wind energy safely reaches our shores and the homes of all Europeans. Europe's ambitions for renewable energies currently exceed its plans for infrastructure, so we urgently need these cross-European infrastructures. And they must be costeffective, safe, sustainable, and flexible.

For the Belgian Minister of Energy, Tinne Van der Straeten, the transition to clean energy, born out of climate necessity, was now an economic and security imperative, and that interconnection created a more flexible system to balance geographical variations in wind and solar production.

photo ©Julien Nizet