UK signs deal with EU energy partnership amid thawed ties

The UK is poised to sign an agreement with an EU energy partnership it left after Brexit, in the first concrete result of warming Brussels-London relations.

The voluntary North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC), which focuses on supporting the construction of wind farms and distribution grids in the region, consists of the European Commission, eight member states and Norway.

Since leaving the EU in 2020, the UK has shown little enthusiasm for formal cooperation with Brussels. However, the need to find alternatives to Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine has prompted a change of heart.

The UK is preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding with the NSEC to effectively rejoin. However, it cannot be a formal member unless it subscribes to the single market rules.

Liz Truss, Britain’s Prime Minister, spoke to leaders of neighboring countries about energy security at the opening session of a new grouping of European countries, the European Political Community, in Prague.

She had lunch with host Petr Fiala, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, holder of the rotating EU Council Presidency.

Fiala said: “Our Presidency aims to complete the process allowing Britain to join the North Sea Energy Cooperation as soon as possible. This move will strengthen European energy cooperation and security in the face of Russian aggression and energy price manipulation.”

On the sidelines of the summit, Truss also had bilateral meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Both France and the Netherlands are NSEC members.

Rutte later told reporters that he supported closer energy ties with Britain. The Netherlands and Belgium supply electricity to the UK via interconnectors during winter, when there is generally a shortage.

“We discussed it in detail. . . how to work together as North Sea countries on issues like hydrogen, issues like wind energy but also on gas and the connections between countries like the Netherlands, Great Britain but also Germany, Belgium, France. So that was an excellent discussion.”

The nine NSEC countries have agreed to increase offshore wind capacity to at least 260 gigawatts by 2050.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo joked to reporters that his country “left the lights on in London three months ago” when there was a power shortage. He said he supports more shared infrastructure in the region and more interconnectors.

Truss had spoken to the leaders of 44 countries attending the meeting, urging them to continue to power the UK through their interconnectors. The UK has been chosen to host the planned fourth EPC group meeting in 2024.

The British Prime Minister has been released a joint statement with Macron They said they would hold a Franco-British summit in 2023, the first since Brexit, “to drive a renewed bilateral agenda”.

They also agreed to deepen cooperation on illegal migration, within the limits of international law, to crack down on criminal groups that traffic in human beings across Europe and end up making dangerous journeys across the English Channel. To this end, the interior ministers are to finalize a package of measures in the autumn.

When asked about a previous comment when she asked if Macron was a “friend or foe,” she told reporters, “He’s a friend.”

“We are both very clear: the enemy is Vladimir Putin.”

Macron said he hopes the move to NSEC will mark a “new phase in our mutual relationship.” “It makes sense for the UK to be involved in many joint initiatives as we share the same continent. We have many challenges in common,” he said.

“Our willingness to work together for the unity of our continent is very clear.”

Talks over how to resolve post-Brexit trade ties – which have soured ties and prompted the EU to exclude the UK from its Horizon research program – have resumed, raising hopes of an agreement. UK signs deal with EU energy partnership amid thawed ties

Adam Bradshaw

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