The Ukraine crisis has made Europe’s energy dependence painfully clear, exactly on the moment where major policy decisions are being negotiated on climate and energy. The EU already adopted ambitious goals of climate neutrality by 2050, and a 55% reduction of emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. The session will deal with the question what the perspective is for this policy in the short and medium term, even if forecasts on the immediate outcome of the conflict are hard to predict.
In the short term, the outlook is grim. Economic perspectives for growth and trade are not good. Gas is critical for heating of homes and for manufacturing industry. Indigenous energy resources may become attractive, not least coal. How to deal with the social impacts of the dramatic increases of energy bills is becoming a key political question.
In the longer term, the crisis may turn out to make the European economy more resilient and less dependent on energy imports. More diversification in energy use is likely to happen. High energy prices will speed up improvements in energy efficiency and investments in renewable energy. However, these efforts also require a lot of new raw materials, and as these are scarcely available in Europe, a geopolitical approach to its trade policy may be required.
The EU Green Deal already supports the development of new technologies such as hydrogen, biochemicals, renewables. The first pilot installations are already being put in operation but a massive and speedy scaling up of these technologies will be key. Equally, new infrastructure investments will be needed to facilitate these developments. Apart from the huge investment resources this will require, permitting procedures and other administrative hurdles will have to be addressed as well.
Conversations for the Future of Europe
In order to guide the steps of the European Union and in order to mobilize its citizens so as to make such steps possible, it is not enough to analyse the past and to criticize the present. It is crucial to concoct concrete proposals for a better future and to subject them to a no-nonsense, multidisciplinary discussion. The conversations for the future of Europe aim to contribute to such a discussion.
A concern for concreteness and political feasibility should be present throughout, the aim being, as in Robert Schuman’s 1950 declaration, "des realisations concrètes" rather than vague dreams. However, this should not prevent us from bearing in mind Max Weber’s warning at the end of Politik als Beruf : Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. A concern for feasibility is compatible with boldness. Indeed, it may require it.