Thursday, January 22, 2009

Confrontation in the making

Just as it is reality that is going to bring down the Brown government, it is going to be reality which eventually destroys the European Union, brought down by the very member state governments which currently support it.

A clue to this dynamic lies in a piece in the current edition of The Guardian which laments that the British government is attempting "to undermine European emissions law" – despite, one might add, its "green" and "pro-Europe" credentials.

What we have here is an example of the tension arising between the demands of the EU's Large Combustion Plants Directive (LCPD), about which we have written before, and the need for the British provincial government to secure affordable supplies of electricity … for its voters - the things the EU doesn't have to worry about.

The cockpit for dissent is the EU's plans to "recast" the Industrial Emissions (IPPC) Directives provisions concerning large combustion plants, which puts the directive up for grabs. While the EU is intending to keep the LCPD intact in its new legislation, it affords the British government an opportunity to get it changed, "watering it down", in a last ditch attempt to keep seven major coal plants open and producing.

An indication of how seriously our provincial government is taking this issue comes in a 4-page "leaked Whitehall paper" which says the LCPD directive "raises potentially serious issues about security of electricity supply" and could even damage "moves to low-carbon electricity generation".

The chances are that the provincial government's moves to reduce the impact of the LCPD will fail, but it points to battles to come. With the current plants already under restricted hours, there is a distinct possibility that we will see power cuts while, at the same time, major generating plants are standing idle for no other reason than EU rules prevent them from generating electricity.

The unfortunate prime minister of the day will then have the unenviable task of standing at the despatch box and explaining to his voters why obeying EU rules is more important than providing heat and light to the British nation. At that juncture, "euroscepticism" will become a reality, simply on the basis that there are no europhiles when the lights go out.

As the financial crisis deepens, more and more we are seeing conflicts between national and EU agendas, and the energy question is going to provoke yet another confrontation. In each case – as we are seeing now – the EU is going to have to back off and, each time it does, its grip will be weakened. Soon enough, someone is going to ask, in the manner of the innocent child, "what is that thing for?" And when answer there is none, euroscepticism will be back in fashion.