All roads lead to Rome [or to somewhere in Italy] - EU monitor

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All roads lead to Rome [or to somewhere in Italy]

Source: M. (Maroš) Sefčovič i, published on Tuesday, December 22 2015.

This might have been true in ancient times. It's definitely true for today's Energy Union. Diversification of Europe's energy consists of creating new routes both by sea and by land; and investing in innovative technologies and renewables. But there's one 'stop' almost all these 'roads' have in common: Italy.

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When it comes to a country's access to secure, competitive, and sustainable energy, luck plays a certain role. A strategic geo-political location, for example, can make a big difference. But luck is not enough; it's merely a starting point. The real question is how to leverage such natural conditions in order to guarantee the wellbeing of citizens, the economy, and the environment - and to sustain it overtime.

In the case of Italy there's definitely the element of an excellent starting point; situated along both on the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Seas means Italy can become a European gateway of natural gas into Europe both by land and by sea; through its LNG port and the future terrestrial Southern Gas Corridor which is meant to bring gas to Europe all the way from the Caspian Sea. This poses great potential for the Italian economy and allows Italy to play a central role in Europe's energy diversification.

But with wisdom and foresight, Italy went further; recognising the immense energy potential across the Mediterranean, it initiated and led the Euro-Mediterranean Energy Bridge which facilitates cooperation across the sea in electricity, gas, and last but definitely not least; renewables. This will allow the vast supply of solar energy across North Africa, for example, to flow in the electricity grids of both sides of the Sea.

I had the honour to attend and address last year's High Level Conference in Rome where the Initiative was announced as my first official visit as Vice President for the Energy Union. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to return to Rome as the last visit of the Energy Union Tour this year, focusing on the benefits this European project could present to Italy.

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Energy Tour 1

But in between my first and last visits, I found myself coming back to Italy on several occasions, each time focusing on a different aspect of the Energy Union where Italy had an important contribution to make:

In June, the city of Turin hosted the World Chambers Congress where we discussed the role of global business in fighting climate change; a role which proved to be instrumental in the COP21 negotiations. It was also a chance to discuss the best practices of a Smart City like Turin and bringing more cities on board as part as the EU Smart Cities agenda to create a more sustainable urban systems in Europe and around the world.

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Energy Tour 2

In September, I attended the prestigious Ambrosetti Forum in the town of Cernobbio where world leaders discussed their respective foreign policies and where energy plays a major role. It was also the perfect opportunity to visit the Milan Expo, which was dedicated this year to finding sustainable technologies in the fields of agriculture and energy. Brilliant minds from around the world gathered to bring their knowledge and expertise together and to present their latest innovations to citizens in the most entertaining way.

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Energy Tour 3

It was a very full day as can be manifested by the humorous video, made by my colleagues on the plane back home...:

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Energy Tour 4

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Energy Tour 5

As part of the Energy Union's deep commitment to energy-efficient and decarbonised transport, I attended in October the inauguration ceremony of the European Inter-operability Centre for Electric Vehicles and Smart Grids in Ispra. Along with our American partners, the Centre develops compatible and interoperable standards for e-mobility on both sides of the Atlantic therefore serves in achieving cleaner, smarter and integrated transport systems.

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Energy Tour 6

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Energy Tour 7

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Energy Tour 8

But to go back to my last recent visit, it was the broadest and most comprehensive of all, a chance to meet with global Italian-based companies and address the Italian industrial federation together with Economic Development Minister Federica Guidi; exchange with think tanks on energy security and foreign policy with together with my old-time friend and colleague, State Secretary Sandro Gozi; and talk with Italian citizens during a very successful Citizen Dialogue event I co-hosted with Environment Minister Galletti. Last but not least, it was important for me to discuss the Commission's in-depth analysis of the Italian market with the above members of the Italian government, as well as with Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, and with Italy's national parliament.

Some of the figures are highly impressive. For example, Italy has the most diverse (therefore highly secure) energy market in the EU and it is among the highest capacity for renewable electricity (with a complete rollout of smart meters). It is also European leader in the promotion of smart investment for distribution, metering and storage.

But these are not reasons to fall into the trap of complacency. There are still challenges to be addressed, especially when it comes to high retail prices, driven by tax levies. It was therefore important for me to convey to my interlocutors how the Energy Union can help Italy - both where it is well on track and where there are still challenges down the road. And most importantly, I had the chance to thank Italians for the ambitious and central role their country has chosen at the heart of the Energy Union.

Being the last official visit of 2015, this is also my last blog post for the year. I'd therefore like to take this opportunity to wish all Europeans a very joyous holiday season and a wonderful new year. See you in 2016!

Until then, here are a few last memorable 'twictures' from the memorable visit:

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Energy Tour 10

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Energy Tout 11

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Energy Tour 12

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Energy Tour 15

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Energy Tour 16

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Energy Tour 18

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Energy Tour 19

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Energy Tour 20

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Energy Tour 21

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Energy Tour 22

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Energy Tour 23

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Energy Tour 24

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Energy Tour 25

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Energy Tour 26

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Energy Tour 27

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Energy Tour 28