The EU’s green sickness: Competitiveness and shale gas at Davos

It is my contention that the spread of perverse “Green” energy policies in Europe are partly responsible if not for the financial crisis itself, certainly for its prolongation and for slowing down the recovery. It is also my contention that it is the deadening and oppresive inertia that is represented by the “obese” and self-preserving nature of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels which has prevented individual countries in Europe from taking fast corrective actions when needed.

It is now energy costs for industry (and not just labour policies) which is increasing the competitiveness divide between Europe and the US. It seems that this competitiveness – or lack of it – was of some passing interest at Davos:

CNBC

One of the biggest themes at Davos this year — and one that was not there last year — was “competitiveness.” You encountered it whether in the public sessions in the Congress Center, or in the private sessions, and at the various dinners in the hotels strung along the Davos Platz.

This particular rivalry pits the United States head-on against Europe. And, no question — at Davos this year, the United States was judged the clear winner, much to the dispirit of the Europeans trudging back along the icy, snowy streets of this mountain village.

Of course, competitiveness among nations gets measured in many different ways. …… But this year at Davos, it was calibrated along only one axis — energy. And that measure is creating great angst for European industry. …… It all comes down to shale gas and the energy revolution it has triggered in the United States. As a result of the rapid advance of shale technology, the United States now has an abundance of low-cost natural gas — at one-third the price of European gas. European industrial electricity prices are twice as high as those in some countries and are much higher than those in the United States. To a significant degree, this is the result of a pell-mell push toward high-cost renewable electricity (wind and solar), which is imposing heavy costs on consumers and generating large fiscal burdens for governments. In Germany, it was further accentuated by the premature shutdown of its existing nuclear industry after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan. 

All this puts European industrial production at a heavy cost disadvantage against the United States. The result is a migration of industrial investment from Europe to the United States — what one CEO called an “exodus.” It involves, not only energy-intensive industries like chemicals and metals, but also companies in the supply chains that support such industries. …….. a senior European official declared that Europe needs to wake up to the “strategic reality” that shale gas in the United States is a “total game changer.” Without a change in policies at both the European and national levels, he warned, Europe “will lose our energy intensive industries — and we will lose our economy long term.” ……..

And the first signs of a potential change of policy abruptly emerged in both Brussels and Berlin during Davos week. European policy makers, struggling with already high unemployment, have begun to visualize the further job loss that will result from shutting down European plants. They have also started to pay attention to the 2.1 million jobs in in the United States supported by the unconventional oil and gas revolution.

In Brussels, coinciding with the first day of Davos, the European Commission released a new policy paper on energy and climate. It reiterated the commitment to substantial growth in renewable electricity and a “low-carbon economy.” But, for the first time, it put heavy emphasis on the price of such policies and called for a “more cost-efficient approach” to renewables. ….. Despite the fervent opposition to shale gas in some quarters in Europe, it pointedly included shale gas as among the domestic low-carbon energy sources that member countries can pursue.

……… A similar message resounded at exactly the same time from Berlin. Sigmar Gabriel, the social democratic minister of economy and energy in Germany’s coalition government, called for reform in Germany’s Energiewende — or “energy turn” policy — which has heavily subsidized the rapid growth in renewable electricity. He warned that the “anarchy” in renewable energy and its costs in Germany had to be reined in. ……… Up until now, the Energiewende in its present form has been sacrosanct, supported not just by the Greens but all across the political spectrum. Gabriel — and Chancellor Angela Merkel — aim to maintain the commitment, but reduce subsidies, focus more on costs, and, as Gabriel said, “control the expansion of renewable energy.”

His comments reflect the recognition that, if the course remains unchanged, Germany could be facing what Gabriel called “a dramatic deindustrialization.” ………. Exports are responsible for over 50 percent of German GDP, compared to 27 percent for China, which is generally considered to be the workshop of the world.

Gabriel’s comments stirred up criticism from environmentalists; indeed, they may seem strange words coming from the leader of the Social Democrats (the SPD). But the Social Democrats are very close to the trade unions, for which loss of competitiveness translates into loss of jobs.

In 2 decades of green profligacy, I estimate the “jobs lost” by the ” growth prevented” to be around 17 million just within the EU.

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