At first sight, not that much. But they were all key elements of the first stop on the Energy Union Tour which I launched this week in The Netherlands. My visit lasted only one (long) day but it included an excellent example of how sustainability really pays off, and of the important role of the Netherlands in both European and global energy policies.
If someone told you about a company, which recycles abandoned fishing nets which are polluting the shores of Thailand to produce high-end carpets - would you believe it? Well, I didn't. Not until I saw it in with my own eyes when visiting Interface's factory in the Dutch city of Scherpenzeel. This is a brilliant example of a Circular Economy; gaining a competitive edge through efficiency, while creating jobs (both in Europe and in developing countries) and reducing our waste production. That is why I chose to include it in my Energy Union Tour which I kicked off this week.
But there's more! This company is committed to reducing its carbon footprint not by a third or by half - but altogether, going down to zero! It is doing so through a set of measures from switching to renewable energy sources to very effective energy efficiency systems. Here's another interesting fact: thanks to its efficiency, the company has grown into a billion-dollar corporation, ranked among the “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Conclusion? Efficiency pays off. It's not a hypothetical ideology but a very solid business case!
Video of Visit to Interface, Netherlands
From Scherpenzeel I went to The Hague; to the beautiful Het Torentje castle (Dutch for "The Little Tower"), official office of the Dutch Prime Minister. I found Prime Minister Mark Rutte as jolly as always, but more importantly - genuinely interested in his country's role and contribution to the Energy Union. This shows that the Energy Union is important enough to be regularly discussed at the level of Heads of State or Government.
My meeting with the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp, was equally productive. I shared with him some of the preliminary data that we had gathered on the Dutch energy market. His first reaction was very positive and we agreed to continue cooperating and exchanging relevant figures in order to complete our analysis (along with that of all other EU Member States). Minister Kamp also shared with me that he was confident that The Netherlands would meet its 2020 energy targets. This would be great news not only for The Netherlands but also for Europe as a whole.I'm sure that when Minister Kamp takes the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, in a few months' time - the Council will be in good hands!
I concluded the visit by joining over 70 ministers from all over the world who gathered to sign the International Energy Charter Declaration. The new Charter will create the conditions for a new global energy regime which will facilitate investment in energy infrastructure around the world. Given that 1.3 billion people currently have no access to electricity, this means millions more of children who will be able to read and do their homework after sunset; millions of farmers who will be able to feed their families and communities by using modern agriculture; millions of patients who will receive better hospital treatment, and so on. Energy is practically everywhere in modern-day life.
I must commend the Dutch hosts for doing an impeccable job in organising such a complex high-level event! Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, given the significant energy diplomacy history of The Netherlands which also launched the European Energy Charter back in 1991. Overall, the visit was a great success and I am very much looking forward to my next stops on the Energy Union Tour.