Imagine a country which can transmit over a third of its electricity across its 'borders'; a country which is about to become an important European gas hub, and which is playing a major diplomatic role in negotiating Europe's energy partnership with North Africa. You probably didn't imagine Malta.
It's a bit ironic; while some of Europe's major continental countries are working hard to connect their electricity grids with their immediate neighbours; Malta has successfully integrated its electricity grid with that of Italy, bringing its level of electricity inter-connectivity from 0% to 35% overnight. So while located in the middle of the sea, Malta is now not only well above the EU 10% inter-connectivity target, but it is among the best inter-connected electricity markets in the EU.
There's more; for many years Maltese electricity was generated solely from highly-pollutant and expensively-imported oil. This was both causing health problems to the local population and contributing to global warming, a phenomenon the EU is highly committed to fight. Yet, Malta is currently in the midst of a full-swing transition. In a recent visit to the country, I visited the new Delimara plant, where I saw state-of-the-art human engineering brought together from all corners of the globe and implemented in one highly modern facility. As opposed to the old plant, the new one is high in technology and low in carbon. Not to mention that soon we might see solar energy flowing into Malta from North Africa as such attempts are currently undergoing.
A pipeline in the pipeline
Small in size, indeed, but not in terms of its potential contribution to Europe's gas market. In fact, a new gas pipeline will allow it to connect Malta into the European gas infrastructure. This would first and foremost allow Maltese consumers to choose between gas coming from the sea or from the mainland, creating competition which would improve services and reduce prices.
Connecting Malta's gas infrastructure with that of continental Europe would also provide the EU with a new source of liquefied natural gas (LNG), contributing to the energy diversity of the rest of Europe. That is why the EU considered the construction of this pipeline to be a Project of Common Interest, a status which grants it access to accelerating licencing and the right to apply for financial support. The project made it to the first list in 2013 and following long anticipation, I was glad very glad to re-confirm its status in the second list which I announced last week. But Malta is not wasting any time. Given the long timeframe associated with such a project, a floating LNG storage vessel is expected to be operational already in 2016.
The voice of Malta
With one of the smallest populations in the world - Malta is a diplomatic giant. Examples are abundant; it was there that US President, George Bush (Sr), and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met face-to-face for the first time back in 1989, signalling to the rest of the world the end of the Cold War. But its influence and impact clearly remain, as can be manifested by today's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) which Malta hosting this year, giving a strong push to the COP21 Summit next week. Finally, given the country is considered an honest and respectable broker throughout the entire region, Malta has been instrumental in pushing forward the 'Euro Mediterranean Energy Bridge', an initiative for better energy connection with our southern neighbours.
So it's not only that Malta can serve as a physical bridge to bring gas from Mediterranean countries into Europe, it is also in a position to bridge our negotiation efforts with some of our neighbours and partners.
My visit to Malta, as part of the Energy Union Tour, was an opportunity to discuss many of these issues with my old (young) friend, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. I thanked the Prime Minister for his consistent support for the Energy Union, welcomed his important steps for decarbonising his economy and discussed other benefits Malta could see from the Energy Union. These include reinforced measures for meeting Malta's targets in energy efficiency (especially in the transport sector) and renewable, as well as improving its security of energy supply.
Following the same line, I held very constructive meetings with Energy Minister, Konrad Mizzi, and shared with him the Commission's detailed analysis of the Maltese market across the five dimensions of the Energy Union.
As I try to do in every country I visit, I met with Malta's national parliament and this time also with its opposition leaders. This was an opportunity to hear from them what their priorities are and explain to them, in person, what the Energy Union Strategy could mean to them. (It was also allowed me to appreciate the institution's new iconic building which very well represents the country's progress and transition).
Last but definitely not least, I was delighted to exchange directly with some of Malta's most brilliant minds, after a speech I gave to students and faculty of the University of Malta, along with some of its prominent industrialists.
After 24 hours on the island I can say one thing for certain; geographically Malta might be an island, but it is no longer an energy island and it definitely doesn't have an island state of mind. The small island nation is at the heart of the Energy Union Strategy!