Euro Mediterranean countries are engaged in an intense (never-ending) dialogue to define the main features of Regional Cooperation in the Energy sector.
The high-level conference  recently held in Rome under the Italian Presidency of the EU and of the European Commission (EC) has proposed the creation of three thematic platforms with the aim to re-invigorate the dialogue between the two shores of the Mediterranean Basin.
The three platforms will be dedicated respectively to three thematic focus: 1) Gas; 2) Regional Electricity Market; 3) Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.
These initiatives have been set forth to accompany the flourishing of voluntary bottom up programmes that have developed in the energy sector in the Region. The Mediterranean basin has witness the creation of a constellation of private initiatives active in the Region and mostly concerning hydrocarbon trade and plans for the promotion and development of necessary energy infrastructure such as electricity interconnectors, gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas plants and terminals.
In addition to industrial initiatives, since 2005, under the dialogue promoted by the Italian Regulatory Authority for Energy (AEEGSI), it has been established a voluntary platform to discuss and harmonise technical standards and the regulatory framework in place in each domestic market. Following these initiatives, MEDREG (The association of Mediterranean Energy Regulators) and MED-TSO (the Association of the Mediterranean Transmission System Operators) were created and are now established in the region.
These initiatives have taken place in a political vacuum and in the absence of any credible multilateral dialogue established in the energy field in the region. The weakness of the EU external energy policy in the region has been apparent and was loudly expressed after the failure of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM)  Ministerial Conference on Energy held in December 2013. The ministerial conference was supposed to agree on the implementation of the Mediterranean Solar Plan (MSP), which unexpectedly was blocked by the fierce opposition of Spain.
MSP’s ambition is to develop the technical and regulatory capacity in Southern Mediterranean countries to produce and trade RES power in the region, with the aim to install 20GW of additional renewable electricity capacity by 2020. MSP is a large project that would ensure integration in the field of renewable energy, adapting the existing regulatory framework around the Community acquis in the energy field.
EC preferences towards an institutionalised approach toward energy cooperation with the southern neighbourhood, have been expressed in several instances  and constitute, so far, the backbone of the North - South dialogue in the region. Basically, the idea is to extend the EU internal energy market outside the EU borders, not only to cover west-Balkans and South East Europe (SEE), but also toward south Mediterranean countries. However, this approach, which implies the convergence of the south Mediterranean partners toward EU energy legislation in exchange of a portion of the EU internal market has proven to be unattractive for South Eastern Mediterranean Countries (SEMC) energy producers (in particular). The “everything but membership” approach that could led to a progressive convergence to a sort of “Energy Community” extended to the Mediterranean region did not achieve any significant progress within the SEMCs.
Two factors seem to play a key role within this process:
- the perception that bringing-in high level political commitment could significantly slow down a process of progressive market opening, which although slowly, is taking place in many SEMCs countries (e.g. Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and lately Algeria);
- the understanding that there is a co-evolutionary process between market and institutions that needs time and requires a progressive development of market forces within an environment that has traditionally been dominated by publicly owned vertically integrated monopolists (and not only in the SEMCs).
The identification of three platforms — one each for natural gas, electricity and renewable energy and energy efficiency — seem to suggest that the EC (in particular DG energy representatives) have finally accepted that the convergence process will be technical and voluntary. This process could be able to foster effective harmonisation of rules and standards.
However the reiterated tentative to place these platforms and under the UfM umbrella, poses many doubts on the capacity of the EC institutions to learn from the (very) recent past. Imposing a political oversight on a technical process could halt or significantly reduce the effectiveness of the three platforms, in particular taking into consideration the substantial lack of a shared and common energy policy in the MENA region.
The functional connection between the three energy platforms and the UfM that is trying to propose, yet another time , an integrated (political and technical) approach, whose design is neither defined, nor under discussion at this stage, is unclear and might pose more obstacles than opportunities in the current framework. The EC seems to be tempted to reintroduce its normative power via the establishment of highly institutionalised energy platforms, which could translate in the attempt to bring back the defunct Mediterranean plan, now extended to conventional generation and gas, by the back door. This idea does not appeal to most of the stakeholder involved in the process, including EC officials, as demonstrated by Tholens  recently, and confirm the current weakness of the EU external energy policy.