For us non-Belgians living in Belgium, the Belgian political system is a mysterious wonder: a tri-lingual multi-level federation of regions and communities. But in fact, the system of cooperation among communities continues beyond Belgium's borders - across the entire region. It was only logical and symbolic that I discussed the opportunities of the Energy Union to Belgium at the Benelux house, and close to three of its borders, accompanied by a Belgian and Luxembourger ministers.
'Coo is cool!'
Or at least that's what I hear from Belgian primary school pupils whose favourite school destination is the city of Coo and its Hydroelectric Power Station. And they are right; located in a beautiful setting, the station which was built back in the 1970s was recently renovated, making use of the latest ICT technologies to provide energy storage, a key condition for renewable energy production. In other words, it stabilises the volatility of renewable energy with… renewable energy!
Joined by Belgian Minister Marie-Christine Marghem (Energy, Environment, and Sustainable Development) and Luxembourg's Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider, I recently visited the plant in order to better understand how such technologies can be implemented elsewhere across Europe. I learned from the two ministers about the excellent cooperation their countries are maintaining, especially in the field of energy. And as if this was not enough, my visit took place during the Benelux Week of Energy, which is dedicated to energy cooperation between Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and just a few short weeks after Belgium and Luxembourg fully integrated their gas markets.
Much inspired by their close cooperation I'd seen, I thanked Minister Marghem for Belgium's leading role in the Pentlateral Forum (this time bringing together the electricity markets of the Benelux countries with Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland) as well as on the North Seas Offshore Grid Iniative, a project which holds tremendous potential for pumping new renewable energies into Europe's electricity market. As I do in every country I visit on this Tour, I presented to Minister Marghem the benefits that Belgium could see from the Energy Union, as well as the challenges, and discussed how to bring Belgium on track to the 2020 targets by further decarbonisation and regional cooperation.
Keeping the same regional approach and European spirit, we concluded the visit in the Benelux House in Brussels where we met with Belgian trade unions, climate NGOs, representatives of the renewables and other civil society organisations. Given the level of ambition and enthusiasm, it was simply impossible for me to leave the room until all questions were answered…
All in all, it is indeed impossible to understand the European integration without Belgium. But it is also impossible to understand Belgium without its integration with its European neighbours!