Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK signed the Ostend Declaration at a North Sea Summit on the Belgian coast on 24 April, pledging to increase their offshore wind capacity to 300GW by 2050.
It is a doubling of the commitment for 150GW by 2050 made at the first North Sea Summit last year in Denmark – but this year’s summit also doubled the number of participants. Last year’s commitment only included the four EU countries with North Sea coasts; this year, five additional countries were added. The Ostend Declaration countries also set an interim goal of 120GW of offshore wind capacity by the end of this decade.
Numerous bilateral deals were signed on the sidelines. The UK and the Netherlands agreed to build a new electricity cable connecting the two countries that would also connect to offshore wind farms. The 1.8GW power line, called LionLink, is being developed by National Grid and Dutch transmission system operator TenneT and could be running by the early 2030s, according to the UK government.
Separately, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was also in attendance at the summit, signed a “green alliance” between the EU and Norway, committing to work together on tackling climate change, protecting nature and developing the technologies needed to transition away from fossil fuels. Belgium also signed its own agreement with Norway for further cooperation on carbon capture, use and storage.
However, at the Ostend Declaration closing press conference by eight of the countries’ leaders (British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declined to attend), familiar divisions emerged as journalists asked questions. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo was asked about his country’s ongoing legal dispute with France over a planned wind farm 10km off the coast of Dunkirk, just next to the border. Belgium says the farm is too close to the coast and should be built like Belgian wind farms are, 40km off the coast. De Croo said the two sides are working to overcome the dispute.
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel had some tough words opposing nuclear power, which visibly agitated French President Emmanuel Macron, and there seemed to be disagreement about how to ensure that Europe does not become just as dependent on China for renewable energy equipment as it did on Russia for fossil fuels.
Perhaps the most glaring sign of disunity, however, was the absence of Prime Minister Sunak, who according to diplomatic sources provided no explanation for not attending. This meant that despite being a signatory to the Ostend Declaration and a participant at the summit, the UK had nobody at the final press conference.
Several leaders went out of their way to herald their good relations with Norway, which is also not in the EU. The UK has the second-longest North Sea coastline after Norway, but post-Brexit the government still seems reticent to have anything more than an arms-length relationship with Europe. That will make energy cooperation on the North Sea more difficult.