Located at opposite geographic ends of Europe with fairly divergent industries, I was preparing to have very different exchanges in Ireland and in Bulgaria. Yet, when visiting the two countries last week, as part of the Energy Union Tour, there were some conversations which actually sounded very much alike. Both Bulgaria and Ireland have a tremendous potential of becoming energy hubs once they are better interconnected to their neighbouring countries.
To a large extent, Bulgaria is already an energy hub which plays an important role when it comes to the flow of gas across the south east region of Europe. In fact, it was in Sofia where countries of the region conceived the Central East South Europe Gas Connectivity ( CESEC) High Level Group in February this year. Shortly after in Dubrovnik, I met these countries' governments again (this time joined by the governments of our regional partners from outside the EU) and agreed on a set of concrete steps forward.
Visiting Sofia again now, it wasn't only the weather which was warmer compared to February, but also the climate, the political climate; our common actions for regional integrations are by far more mature than they were only six months ago. Yet, when presenting our preliminary analysis on the Bulgarian market, to the Bulgarian government, I also stressed that the process must be accelerated in order to see concrete results in the near future. At the same time, I strongly welcomed Bulgaria's significant process in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, expansion in renewables, and improvement in energy efficiency, putting it well on track toward meeting its 2020 targets.
PM Borissov and Deputy PM Dontchev took their time to present to me, in great detail, the complex array of existing agreements and legal engagements in the fields of electricity and gas.
Across my meetings with President Plevneliev, PM Borissov and Deputy PM Dontchev, Ministers Petkova and Mitov as well as in the Bulgarian Parliament - I felt there was a very strong and genuine interest for Bulgaria to seize this opportunity and take a leading role in Europe's energy transition.
The purpose of the Energy Union Tour is to facilitate a discussion as broad and inclusive as can be. That is why I was thrilled to see the very large turnout (over 400 participants) at a conference, organised by Bulgarian energy think tank, Energy Management Institute. It was another opportunity to discuss how Bulgaria can further ensure its energy security through enhancing its regional integration.
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I returned to Brussels for 36 hours (during which I attended our weekly college meeting and presented the Summer Package to the European Parliament) and continued to the next destination on my Tour: Ireland.
Dublin welcomed me not only with the Irish famous warmth but also with a similar high level of enthusiasm and genuine interest in the Energy Union. I presented the Commission's views on how this will positively impact the Irish economy to Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton, Ministers Alex White and Simon Coveney, as well as major stakeholders in the energy, transport, agriculture, ICT and environmental sectors.
Through our exchanges, I learned a great deal about Ireland's energy transition and its efforts to make the agriculture sector more sustainable. A major part of our talks therefore naturally covered this industry and the way it can contribute to further reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (as part of next year's non-ETS legislation).
Personally, I have strong faith in the Irish to do what they do best: use their creative minds especially when it comes to technological breakthroughs. I have no doubt that the country which has developed Europe's Silicon Valley (or Silicon Docks) and has emerged out of the economic crisis as the EU's fastest growing economy - will do the same when it comes to its greenhouse gas emissions. This is true not only for agriculture but also when it comes to the transport and building sectors where potential for energy saving is still tremendous.
With Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Enda Kenny
In Ireland as well as in Bulgaria, citizens and stakeholders showed their interest in the Energy Union by attending, in very high numbers public conferences. At the ‘Future of Energy’ Summit, organised by the Dublin-based Institute of International and European Affairs, we discussed the 'shift of power' which will allow consumers to take control of their energy, deciding how to consume smarter, cheaper, and above all: produce their own energy.
But if there is one message which I brought up in all my conversations with my Irish interlocutors it is a very similar one to what I had said in Sofia only a few days earlier, and that is: connect.
Ireland might be located on an island but it is not doomed to being an 'energy island'. The country was blessed by a range of renewable energy sources which it could export not only to Northern Ireland (through the North-South electricity interconnection) but also to the rest of the UK and continental Europe once interconnection projects are completed. The Commission has the capacity, the means, and the will to assist in this endeavour which will benefit all Europeans whether they produce the energy, consume it, or both!
In the end, our Member States are different but the overarching principle is the same: creating a low-carbon inter-connected market which is highly energy-efficient and 'fuelled' by renewables. When this vision is implemented, both Bulgarian and Irish consumers will find they have something more in common: an internal energy market where they can all produce, exchange and consume clean energy.