Discours du premier ministre Yves Leterme à l'occasion du "5th Strategic Energy Forum"
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERYHow Belgium can grasp the opportunities created by the challenges of the future energy transition?
Monseigneur,Your Excellencies,Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor for me to speak here today at the 5th edition of the Strategic Energy Forum, a wonderful event that really talks about the key energy issues policy makers have to deal with today. I would like to address the interaction – from a policy point of view - between the liberalized energy market and the energy transition toward a greener and more diverse energy mix. Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Liberalizing the energy market was a good decision. In the European Union of today, keeping state-led energy companies in charge of supply would only be an anomaly that goes against the very idea of the internal market. Moreover, it is an irreversible decision that should eventually lead to more competitive prices throughout the European Union. I express this belief, fully aware of the existing problems on the energy market. As a Prime minister, I am continuously confronted with the growing pains of the liberalized energy market. For instance, the increase in energy prices over the past ten years made us aware of the problem of energy poverty. The federal government tries to tackle this problem on a Belgian scale by creating an automatic social tariff for people in financial need, because even in a free market, energy should never become a luxury good; it is a basic commodity. In this respect, the work that was done on energy poverty during the Belgian presidency of the EU was very important: 13% of EU citizens have trouble paying the bills for heating and electricity. Energy poverty needs to remain an important policy focus that should not be lost out of sight over the course of the implementation of the EU 2020-objectives. Another problem the Belgian energy market suffers from, almost a decade after the liberalization, is a lack of competition. The historically dominant player on the energy market still owns the large majority of production assets, and provides gas and electricity to about two thirds of the Belgian households. An important part of these production assets, the nuclear power plants that produce more than half of Belgium’s electricity, were paid off by Belgian consumers under the regulated market. By capturing part of the ‘nuclear rent’, the benefit made on these so called ‘cheap assets’, the government wants to give the consumer back part of what was historically invested by those same consumers. It is important to see, and let the message be very clear, that the intention of the government is not to disturb the market, and even less so to disadvantage one or more players on the market. To the contrary, we want to make the production market more competitive, so that consumers can benefit from a wider range of options and eventually, lower prices. Capturing part of this nuclear rent will invite new players onto the production market and help creating the level playing field that is needed. A third problem I am confronted with as a Prime Minister, is the influence of the volatility of international commodity prices on Belgian inflation: through their influence on day to day energy prices, the international commodity prices fuel inflation and put the competitiveness of our economy at risk. Belgium is particularly vulnerable for this: a DG Ecofin study shows that for every euro increase in the international price of crude oil, the Belgian index for consumption prices increases with 0.17 per cent – three times the Eurozone average (0.06%). The federal government reacted by creating a permanent monitoring authority for the independent regulator, so that unjustified price increases can be identified and avoided. Together with the 0.3 wage increase limit, this system is an important part of the package of measures my caretaker government implemented to reduce the budget deficit and safeguard our competitiveness.Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope these few examples made it sufficiently clear that the solutions for these growing pains of the liberalized market are not endless: we can only try to correct the market to make it function better on a national level. And on a European level, we should invest in a more profound integration of the European energy market. As the European Council concluded on February 4th, the EU needs a fully functioning, interconnected and integrated internal energy market. I am sure President Van Rompuy will speak to this later on, but I can only confirm that investments in a better interconnection between different EU member states are of quintessential importance. The Trans-European Energy networks identified by the European Commission will help us to realize this objective, and I am glad to see that the Belgian Transmission System Operators Elia and Fluxys are fully playing their role in this respect. Ladies and Gentlemen,This liberalized, integrated European energy market does not need to be an impediment to creating the right energy mix for the future. Quite the contrary, it can foster the entrepreneurial spirit and the creativity needed for newer and greener technologies to become competitive.From a policy point of view, we have to focus on two issues: setting the right targets, and creating a stimulating financial environment for renewable technologies. I am convinced that the EU 2020 targets, 20% CO² reduction, 20% renewable energy and 20% more energy efficiency, constitute a very clear signal to the energy markets. The recent Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources by the (IPCC) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides very hopeful signals: in 2008 and 2009, 46% percent of the newly created energy production capacity was based on renewable sources. In the most optimistic scenario, 77% of world energy supply by 2050 could be produced by renewable sources. These scenarios can only become reality when politicians assume their other important duty in this respect: creating a transparent, stimulating financial environment for renewable energy investments. The present regulatory environment in Belgium is, admittedly, complex with four different kinds of subsidy mechanisms in the three regions and on the Belgian continental shelf in the North Sea. On April 15th, the federal government decided to study a reform of the subsidy system for future off shore wind farms on the North Sea. I am personally in favor of a flexible feed-in tariff, that can be adapted to overall energy prices while conserving the profit margin of investors. I invite the regional governments to make the same reflection: our energy policy needs to be ecological, but also socially and economically sensible. If we can realize that, I am convinced that on a Belgian level, we will move on from the present 4% renewable energy level and reach the 13% target by 2020, and even more than 13% beyond that. The geographical limitations of our country regarding natural sources of energy should never be used as an excuse not to do everything that is possible to create a sustainable energy policy.
To conclude, Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to address the nuclear issue, reiterating what I said at last month’s nuclear safety summit in Kiev: for a country where 55% of electricity is produced by nuclear power plants, nuclear energy should never be the subject of haphazard decisions. Meanwhile, the concern of the population after the Fukushima disaster is entirely legitimate. We absolutely have to make sure that safety always comes first. That is why Belgium immediately supported the European Commission initiative to submit our nuclear installations to a thorough stress test. I insist on the seriousness of this exercise, and the Belgian government will take every necessary decision as soon as the results of these tests have been rendered. In addition, I express the wish that these tests lead to more harmonized nuclear security regulations. That being said, I believe that there is a place for safe nuclear energy in our future energy mix. Therefore, research into safer and cleaner nuclear technology and waste reduction remains extremely important.
On that note, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish you an interesting academic session to conclude this event, and I thank you for your attention.