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by MONITOR
IF the Common Energy Policy proposed by the European Commission in Brussels sounds rather like the hated Common Agricultural Policy that cannot be helped. What Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission's President, has in mind is a mechanism to bring some order to Europe's dangerously chaotic energy market which he described yesterday as consisting of “25 different and uncoordinated energy policies”. This is a timely response by the EU Commission to the decision made by EU leaders at the Hampton Court summit last year that the practicality of a common energy policy should be examined. Mr Barroso summarised the problem in this way: “Demand is rising. Europe's reserves are declining. There is under-investment and our climate is changing. We must have an approach to match this new reality.” The preliminary proposal by Brussels is for the creation of a single European electricity grid, new gas and pipe lines into the EU from North Africa, the Middle East and the Caspian region and the setting up of emergency gas stocks to be shared by member states in the event of a disruption in supplies. However, individual governments would be free to decide whether or not to build nuclear power stations or invest in renewable energy installations. The reality which Europe faces is that its dependence on imported energy will rise from the present 50 per cent to 70 per cent by 2030. Negotiation on price and other factors with suppliers such as Algeria, Norway and Russia would be much better managed centrally than by 25 individual countries. The dominance of Russia as a future oil supplier is a particularly important factor; Mr Putin's readiness to use energy as a political weapon was demonstrated last year by his interference with Ukraine's gas supplies. The British government has welcomed the Commission's proposals as an important step towards energy security. The Conservative spokesman on energy, Alan Duncan, criticised the creation of “a new bureaucracy” to run a trans–European energy regime. But he did not say what policy the Conservatives have for dealing with the coming energy crisis.