Secretary Antony J. Blinken Opening Remarks for the U.S.-EU Energy Ministerial

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome.  It’s wonderful to have our colleagues here.  High Representative Borrell, Josep, so wonderful as always to be with you, to see you.  Commissioner Simson, Ambassador Etienne, welcome to you all.  And we are so delighted to welcome you to the State Department for what is a truly critical discussion and one that I think could not be more timely.  We’ve had many engagements, conversations, meetings between the European Union and the United States over the past weeks and months, and Josep and I seem to be on speed dial, either video or telephone, but there is no substitute for actually being together in the same place.  And as I like to say, either face to face or mask to mask, unfortunately, as the case may be.

But the U.S.-EU Energy Council is one of the many mechanisms through which the EU and the U.S. are working together to strengthen our mutually reinforcing strategic relationship.  This partnership more broadly addresses the challenges that we all face and that our people face from ending COVID-19 to dealing with climate change to standing up to threats to democracy.  And it’s an increasingly ambitious partnership with the launch of a new dialogue on security and defense planned for a little bit later this year.

A moment like this demonstrates why this relationship is so vital to transatlantic and, indeed, to global security.  At precisely the time Europe most needs a stable energy supply to get people through the winter, Russia has attempted to increase its energy leverage.  As the International Energy Agency has noted, Russia’s state-owned companies are currently holding back natural gas supplies, the same supplies that could ease the record high prices the European people are currently facing.  As a result, we see people rationing the gas they use for heating, some skipping even a daily hot shower or cooking food in bulk to lower their bills.  And some small businesses are considering shutting doors because of high energy costs.

President Biden has pledged the United States will do everything we can to help ease any disruptions to Europe’s energy supply and, indeed, we already are.  In the short term, we’re in discussions with governments and major producers around the world about surging natural gas capacity, and the market itself is adjusting.  These efforts are aimed at shoring up energy supply throughout Europe, including Ukraine, whose energy security is particularly threatened by Russian aggression.

The United States is grateful to the European Union and its readiness to support projects that will allow gas to enter Ukraine from Europe and we’re prepared to help those efforts through both our diplomacy as well as technical expertise.  We’re also supporting Ukraine’s efforts to connect with the European electricity grid, an initiative to which we have contributed more than $138 million in recent years.  Ukraine’s grid is now ready and we’re hopeful it may soon be able to connect to Europe’s grid.

Even as we address current challenges, we’re also focused on the essential longer-term goal of accelerating the clean energy transition so that we can meet our net zero emissions targets and prevent a climate catastrophe.  Here too we’ve been working hand in hand, the United States and Europe.  And perhaps nowhere can we see the power of the U.S.-EU clean energy collaboration better than in the Western Balkans.  For years, the United States has supported efforts at connecting the energy grids of the Western Balkans with those of the European Union’s to speed up the transition away from coal and other fossil fuels.  Over that same time, the EU has provided grants and investments to help develop the Western Balkans energy grids, including most recently through the Green Agenda Action Plan.

We’ve seen the difference that these efforts have helped make.  Albania and Kosovo have established a common electricity market, renewable energy generation has skyrocketed, countries across the region are now diversifying how they get their energy.

So whether it’s confronting the immediate energy challenge or accelerating the clean energy transition, the partnership between us is critical and it grows stronger and stronger.  I’m looking forward to the discussions today for how we can build on the progress we have made and explore new areas for cooperation so that we can continue to enhance the collective security and prosperity for all of our people.

And again, welcome.  It’s wonderful to have you here.  Thank you.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  Secretary Blinken, Secretary Granholm, Commissioner, Ambassador Etienne, we come here today in an environment characterized by geopolitical turbulence, particularly in the eastern neighborhood of Europe.  And while we meet under the gathering storm cloud, our discussions take a greater relevance.  And we need to reassure people that our joint endeavor will make them safer now and more energy secure in the future.

I think that we have to send a strong message to show determination to bolster energy security for Europe and for our direct neighbors in Ukraine and in the Western Balkans.  So thank you for the extraordinary positive cooperation in our transatlantic relation that has becoming stronger.  You participate in our Foreign Affairs Council and we are doing with NATO and OSCE a lot, and we have the hope that these challenges will be overcome.

We are on the midst of a strong diplomatic crisis with Russia.  Russia don’t hesitate on using the energy supplies to Europe as weapon for geopolitical gain in the middle of a surge of energy prices worldwide.  We have been calling Russia to de-escalate and we are deploying a new mainly diplomatic effort to convince Russia to choose the path of dialogue, and this must continue.  But at the same time, we have to be clear all together that any further aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe costs in response, and we know how deep have we been working on this response.

We have also reached our major energy suppliers in order to boost our preparedness and to ensure the energy supply remains reliable, affordable, and secure not just for us, for the European Union, for our neighbors too, for Ukraine, Moldova, and the Western Balkans.  I think that this an important point in the agenda today.

At the same time, the situation has highlighted the need for Europe and the rest of the world to diversify energy supplies, and this is where our strategic cooperation on security comes in.  I think that our starting point today is that clean energy transition is now irreversible.  These are those who wish to slow it down – there are people who say well, in the current circumstances you better – to save the world can wait a couple of years.  No.  No.  In light of the climate emergency, we have to accelerate it and we want the transition to be just globally and inside our societies, because if it is not just it will not happen.

I think that also an excessive focus on the immediate needs risk distracting us from the bigger picture, because reliable, affordable and secure energy can only come from a decarbonized energy based largely on renewables.  We are far away of the objective of reaching 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees with a worth – with a world still depending on fossil fuels for more than three quarters of its energy needs – three quarters – and with 600 million African people that have never seen (inaudible), and they need more energy.  So in a world where we have to increase the energy production to fit the needs of many people, we have to take massive urgent action to advance the transition to clean and renewable energies.

And that’s where our cooperation on climate is stronger – should be stronger than ever, and this Energy Council is a good opportunity to ensure that the ambitious transatlantic agenda agreed in COP26 will bring tangible results.  The Global Methane Pledge is a good example, initiated together, putting the methane squarely in the global climate agenda.  So thank you very much for this discussion.  I am looking forward for a lot of engagement from this meeting.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Josep.  Secretary Granholm.

SECRETARY GRANHOLM:  Thank you so much, High Representative Borrell.  Great words.  Secretary Blinken and I are really delighted to be able to welcome you and Commissioner Simson to Washington for what I think is a long overdue meeting of the U.S.-EU Energy Council.  I think it’s worth acknowledging that 30 years ago today, 12 European nations joined together to sign the Maastricht Treaty – if I’m pronouncing that right – and formed the foundation for the European Union.  And over the last three decades, the U.S. and the European Union obviously have nurtured this very fruitful relationship that’s proved to better the entire world’s wellbeing.  And so over the next three decades, I think few things will have greater impact on the world than how we leverage this relationship on energy matters, clean energy matters specifically.

So this ministerial arrives at a unique and a timely moment for all of us.  Obviously, high energy prices have been putting a strain on households on both sides of the Atlantic.  Europe, you have seen prices go through the roof.  Of course, tensions between Russia and Ukraine pose threats to the energy security of the European Union and our friends and partners.  And all of this, to your point, underscores the benefits of clean energy.  I was at a ministerial last week and the – my counterpart in Ireland, Minister Ryan, said words that I thought were very interesting: no country has been held hostage to access to the sun; no country has been hostage to the wind.  This is not just an energy and climate issue – it also is potentially the greatest peace plan that ever existed to be able to build out energy independence from clean energy.

So the faster we move, the faster we complete the clean energy transition, the faster we’ll be able to deliver more affordable energy, more diverse energy, more reliable power, and true energy independence, and therefore security – not to mention, obviously, the jobs and the economic growth that we’ll generate along the way.  So the President, President Biden, believes that greater collaboration with our European partners is essential to speeding our transition from both countries to clean energy.  In the last year, our teams have worked together on clean hydrogen, on energy efficiency, and on reductions in methane emissions.

The U.S. is obviously eager to deepen those partnerships on a variety of clean energy technologies.  I really look forward today to discussing a couple of things.  One, obviously, developing on the methane component, developing a common tool for the lifecycle analysis of methane emissions from hydrocarbons and more uniform testing methodologies for those emissions; second, to deepen our cooperation between our technical experts and researchers and scientists so we can maximize the impact of at least our national laboratories and the joint research centers; third, to deploy clean energy supplies in a manner that lifts communities up and leaves no one behind; and then to advocate as well for even more ambition, ambitious innovation, and climate action through multilateral fora, including the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation.

So progress toward our net zero goals is going to unlock faster pathways to decarbonization all over the world, and of course, everyone benefits when we work together.  So I encourage staff to move forward with the planning for the U.S.-EU Energy Council High-Level Business Forum, and in the meantime, I look forward to a fruitful meeting with my colleagues.  And with that, I’m delighted, I think, if I can, turn it over to Commissioner Simson.

COMMISSIONER SIMSON:  Thank you.  And dear colleagues, it is a pleasure to be here in Washington at a time that is crucial both for – both of us in the energy policy perspective.  And Jennifer Granholm knows very well that I have been working to organize this meeting since we first met, and this was already more than a year ago, so – because this council has always been the engine of progress in the transatlantic energy cooperation.  And I believe that today, more than ever, a strong partnership between the EU and United States is needed to promote our energy security and to drive forward the global energy transition.

In Europe, we are facing high energy prices driven by volatile gas markets and by tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and today’s situation is also exposing some structural challenges which we can address better if we work together.  First, high price volatility shows that the energy transition is not a linear process but a road with ups and downs, and working jointly we can better stay the course.

Despite high prices, we must preserve the public’s trust and support for the clean energy transition.  In the EU, we call it the European Green Deal.  There is a set of legislative initiatives waiting to be finalized both here in United States but also in Europe.  And together, the EU and U.S. can show that the clean energy technologies are competitive, create new jobs, and can benefit all territories and regions in a just transition.  And we can work jointly to scale up markets for renewables, create opportunities for industry like in offshore wind, and bring down the costs of the most innovative and promising technologies like clean hydrogen or small modular reactors.  And we can lead the way at global level as we did with the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions where now more than 100 countries have joined.

Secondly, this council will mark another milestone in our partnership for energy security in Europe.  Despite a decades-long effort for diversification of gas routes, we are very much aware that our gas market is still too dependent on one single supplier and that we need to continue to prioritize diversification not only for Europe but also for Ukraine and our partners in the neighborhood.  And while we are seeking to reduce the dependency on one single supplier, we naturally turn to U.S., our largest LNG supplier and reliable partner.  And I am confident that today we can follow up on the joint statement of President Biden and President von der Leyen and identify ways to sustain strong U.S. LNG exports to Europe in the coming months.

We can also better align our actions to support Ukraine in this critical moment and coordinate our help for the clean energy transition and the infrastructure development of the Western Balkan countries.  On all these subjects, strong cooperation can make a big difference.  The U.S. is our closest ally, and as we face geopolitical tensions and the challenge of the climate change we need more, not less, transatlantic cooperation.

So I very much look forward to this council and to our exchanges.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Commissioner, thank you very much.

Philippe, (in French).

AMBASSADOR ETIENNE:  Thank you, Secretary.  Thank you, thank you, secretaries, High Commissioner, Commissioner, dear colleagues.  I am pleased to join you for this meeting on behalf of the French presidency of the Council of the European Union.  The EU-U.S. Energy Council has taken on a highly symbolic and strategic quality in the current geostrategic context and for our transatlantic partnership.

Cooperation between the EU and the U.S. is essential to speeding up the fair and clean energy transition which will move us closer to climate neutrality for all the world’s citizens.  Our cooperation will also help us to ensure our energy security.  That is also the spirit of the statement that was made by the President of the United States and the president of France in Rome in the margins of the G20.  The U.S. and the European Union have confirmed in the recent joint statement of President Biden and President von der Leyen that they are committed to Europe’s energy security and sustainability and to accelerating the global transition to clean energy.

We can consider different ways of ensuring the security of Europe’s natural gas supply while also recognizing the sovereignty and security of our partners in our neighborhood.  The situation around Ukraine reminds us this strategic challenge and the importance of the cooperation with the U.S., keeping also in mind that the most effective response in the immediate term is to focus on the energy transition and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

One of the top priorities of the French presidency of the EU is the decarbonization of our economies and the negotiation of an important legislative package proposed by the European Commission which will outline the path to achieve our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030.  Thanks to cooperation between the EU and the U.S., we can combine efforts to help develop clean energy, supporting new technology.  One such example is hydrogen, a source that will play a growing role in the decarbonization of energy systems, and also in fields where decarbonization is difficult, such as industrial transportation.

Thank you, Secretary, for having given me the floor.  I appreciate very much and be sure that the French presidency of the Council of the EU is delighted to take part to this important meeting, especially in those days during our presidency.  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Philippe, thank you very much, and I think now we will start the discussion focusing first on energy security, and I’m happy to kick that off.