The EU Winter Energy Package: a 'Brexit' perspective

This article takes a look at the terms of the Winter Energy Package announced by the EU Commission

2 December 2016

There will be some in the UK who, on reading the terms of the Winter Energy Package announced by the EU Commission earlier this week, are reminded of the usual conclusion of the 1980's / 1990's TV game show, "Bullseye".

At the end of the show, hapless contestants who had gambled all (and lost) in the hope of winning the star prize were invited by the host to "see what you could have won" and then forced, as the closing credits rolled, to join him in grimly inspecting the car or speedboat that had just evaded them.

Like the losing "Bullseye" contestants, those who would have preferred the UK to remain in the EU Internal Electricity Market, will no doubt be turning the pages of the Winter Package with a sense of chagrin; for there is much that would have been welcome in it from their perspective.  

They might, for instance, point to the emphatic support in the Package for the market, and free market principles, as the foundation for the EU power sector, with strong legal protections against government intervention, whether in relation to regulation of consumer tariffs, or ex post interference in renewable investments.  These incoming rules would have acted as a powerful constraint on a new UK Government which appears willing to contemplate direct political intervention in the energy sector, whether in relation to infrastructure investment or supply prices.

Equally, they might draw attention to the important steps being taken in the Package to promote greater flexibility in the current Internal Market regime, e.g., by replacing the current absolute requirement for priority dispatch of renewable generation with a more nuanced approach.

On the other hand, there will be those in the UK - on the 'leave' side of the 'Brexit' debate - who will be reading the Winter Package with less of a sense of the "Bullseye" loser and rather more of the sense of the "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" contestant who wisely chooses to exit the show with £500,000 before the host reveals that they would have lost everything had she foolishly chosen to play on in the hope of winning the £1m jackpot.

This group would perhaps highlight the elements of the Winter Package which increase the powers of EU and cross-border institutions relative to those of the Member States, such as the powers of the Commission to intervene directly in the development of EU network codes, or the proposal that the EU should have power to prescribe cyber-security rules for the whole sector.

And what will each side of the 'Brexit' debate make of the new provisions on "Third Country Participation" in the Internal Electricity Market to be found in Article 69 of the proposed recast Internal Market Directive?  Those looking to maintain close EU relations post-'Brexit' may take comfort from the promise in Article 69 that industry players from third countries (such as post-'Brexit' Britain) may participate in the Internal Market on a level playing field with those from EU Member States.  Those more interested in the need to 'take back control' will perhaps emphasise that, in order to gain market access under Article 69, third countries will have to adopt the 'main' Internal Market legal requirements and submit to the jurisdiction of supranational enforcement and judicial bodies.