2012 is a year of elections in France, the United States and Russia, but energy and elections are “not a good couple”, because energy policies are “quite complicated” for an electoral debate, Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger told a Brussels audience on the 6th of March.

Speaking at a conference organised by Carnegie Europe, Oettinger admitted that energy prices and in particular retail gasoline prices had reached record levels across Europe.

“No matter what we do, energy is getting more expensive and global prices continue to be volatile,” Oettinger said.

In Belgium, a liter of Super 95 reached €1.74, an all-time record. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is facing elections with a run-off due on 6 May, blasted a proposal by his main challenger, the Socialist candidate François Hollande, who said petrol price should be frozen. Sarkozy called the proposal “a joke”, adding that the price of petrol was determined by “a world market outside the country”.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate, tole a TV programme on the 5th of March that she would not only bring down the price of fuel if she were elected but also cut by 5% the prices of gas, electricity and railway transport.

Oettinger admitted that upcoming elections in France, the US and the recent one in Russia were not helpful for making progress on energy policies.

“I don’t think energy policy should be a main point for elections. We should avoid coming to decisions at this time. My expectation is that next year, no matter who wins the presidential election in the US, we will be able to come to a normal relationship in the global issue of climate change. Now it’s impossible,” Oettinger said.

‘Republicans are aggressive’

Describing the US Republican party as “offensive and aggressive”, Oettinger said Obama had to be “sensitive” in the current electoral debate. The Tea Party, the US populist and conservative political movement, “sees no relationship between CO2 emissions and climate change,” Oettinger stressed, highlighting a deep fracture in EU-US relations.

“There is no chance to come to real commitments at this time,” the Commissioner admitted, adding he was confident that  citizens can be convinced of the need to “europeanise” energy policies. “But not in a campaign,” he added.

The ‘stress tests’ conducted on nuclear centrals in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan one year ago, have provided basis for an objective discussion on nuclear power. But such a discussion can only start in France in June, after the election, no matter who is in office, he said.

Unlike Sarkozy who fully backs the French nuclear sector, Hollande favours halving nuclear energy use by 2025.  In Oettinger’s country, Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government agreed in May last year that Germany will shut all its nuclear reactors by 2022.

 

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