Researching European Energy Policy at the Historical Archives of the European Union

The UACES Network |


Marta Musso, King’s College London

Thanks to the UACES funding to visit the Historical Archives of the European Union (HAEU), I spent a total of three weeks in Florence, at the European University Institute, to study the collection related to the Energy Committee of EEC between 1958 and 1974.

I have been study the history of European-level energy policies both for my PhD and for my post-doc as Max Weber fellow at the EUI. However, I had analysed them as background to the relations between European countries and OPEC – for this research, I wanted to focus exclusively on the European-level discussion on the implementation of a common energy policies in the years preceding the 1973 oil shock.

While European energy strategies are a popular topic in European studies, there is not much in a historical perspective: before 1973, it seems that this was a non-existing topic. Furthermore, the importance of a common European energy policy is a popular leitmotif in the discussions on European integration, and yet to this day there is a lack of common visions and strategy, particularly with regards to energy imports. A historical perspective on this topic is particularly interesting because it allows the study of the geopolitics of energy imports, and particularly oil and gas imports, and the different visions emerging amongst EEC countries.

The debates spanned from purely economic and technical issues to problems related to International Relations and ultimately ideological: free market or State monopolies? Relying on the efficiency of international corporations or negotiating imports directly with producer countries? What about Russian oil, and the coal mines crisis? As the largest oil importing area in the world, Europe was particularly vulnerable to the geopolitics of hydrocarbon supplies, and yet the European Union has still to create a common policy on that. Analysing these issues in a historical perspective will hopefully contribute to inform today’s energy experts of the long-term issues of energy imports.

My archival research focused specifically on the fond “Conseil des ministres CEE et Euratom > Energie classique > Activités de la CEE : Energie”. There are two reasons for this: firstly, I wanted to focus on what is referred to as “classic energy sources”, that is at the time, any non-nuclear source. While the majority of documentation produced and held in the archives is dedicated to Euratom, I focussed on other energy sources, and particularly on Extra-European imports. Secondly, this research project also aims to provide a methodological reflection on how to tackle vast amount of sources, such as those held at the HAEU.

I have digitised most of the material that I accessed, almost 200 folders, and I will attempt to encode the documents’ text (via the free software Transkribus) to see whether automated text analysis can be of help in the study of such corpus of documents. Over the next weeks, I will proceed to encode a sample of the fond and to analyse  it through this methodology. If results are promising, I will continue with this methodology. Otherwise, I will revert to simply reading and analysing the documents “manually”.

While my previous work allowed me to have a series of strong initial hypotheses and a narrative for the history of European-level energy strategies (or better, for the lack of it) before the oil shock, I a excited about the possibility of analysing in length this fond, and I will hopefully be able to soon provide interesting results and possibly suggestions for digital methodologies applied to energy history.

This research trip was co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union

Marta Musso (King’s College London) is an historian working on European, global and digital history.

She works on the preservation of digital-born sources and internet archives, digitisation processes, new methods of historical research for digital data, web history, energy policies and development.


Interested in applying for a UACES Funded Research Trip to the Historical Archives of the European Union? Learn more here.