The Political Weakness of Energy Dependency: Europe’s Energy Crisis
Written by: Léandre Noël
Edited by: Shelby Deegan
The emergence of conflict on European soils has triggered a chain of reactions against Russia in order to isolate them, and limit their political and economic power. In response to the economic sanctions of the European Union’s members, Russia has retaliated by restricting their most valuable good: energy supply.
Before diving into the consequences of such a conflict on the energy sector, taking a look at previous energy crises can help one understand the interconnections between conflicts and energy. As the world’s demand for energy seems to be far from slowing down, energy-rich countries have become increasingly powerful on the geopolitical scene, using their richness in resources to attain their goals.
The Middle East, because of decades of political bargain and conflicts, is a very unstable region. However, they are very rich in natural resources. The Arab members of OPEC placed an embargo on the United States during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War as a result of U.S. military support for Israel, causing a global economic crisis and inflation.
The 1973-1974 embargo led France to create the "Messmer Plan", to adapt to the rising prices of oil. It aimed to diversify energy sources and decrease reliance on imported energy. Political conflicts like the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1973 and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait show how energy supply can be used as a political tool (Żuk & Żuk, 2022).
This energy dependency between Russia and the European Union is a double-edged sword, impacting both parties negatively. On one hand, the European Union has to stop imports from their largest supplier, and on the other hand, Russia is cutting an important part of their revenue, while simultaneously facing economic sanctions. As of 2021, 40-45% of natural gas and 23% of oil imports of the European Union came from Russia. We refer to the extent to which an economy relies on energy imports to satisfy its energy demands, as energy dependency (Arman and Gürsoy, 2022). Energy dependency becomes high-risk with the proliferation of energy crises. The level of risk depends on the political stability of the supplier country. The EU’s energy dependency is currently high-risk due to volatility in regions like the Middle East, which they rely on for energy (Arman and Gürsoy, 2022).
European leaders realise that energy dependency is a threat to their security and their economies. Therefore, the European Union plans to build a strategy to ensure their energy supply security: “A deadline of 2027 has been set for freeing the EU from dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal” (The Guardian). However, it is important to note that in the energy context, “sovereignty” and “security” are often used as a means to justify full control of the state over the energy sector (Żuk & Żuk, 2022). In the context of an energy crisis, states sometimes have incentives to constitute energy policy as a core state power (Żuk & Żuk, 2022). In such a scenario, energy becomes a matter of state security, a situation which states may be willing to abuse, to attain other political objectives. However, in the European context, abuses are unlikely to occur. Energy policies are not solely a matter of state control in the EU. The effective oversight of European Institutions allows for regulations and control over state members' abuse.
A potential strategy the EU can undertake is composed of three steps: first is to minimise energy consumption, second is to shift to new and more sustainable energy sources, and third is to diversify the sources of energy (Arman and Gürsoy, 2022). The third step is potentially hazardous because the European Union could build economic relationships with countries that do not have similar beliefs and principles.
Turkey is the country which depends the most on Russian energy. Both Turkey and the EU suffer from the decrease in Russia’s energy supply. Turkey is Europe’s gateway to the Middle East, and where Energy is transported. The development of pipelines is a way to break dependency on Russia’s energy and both Turkey and the EU would benefit from such political cooperation. However, the dispute over Cyprus, has led Turkey’s EU integration process to remain at a standstill. Developing economic and political cooperation with Turkey could be understood as the implicit approval of Turkey’s political aspirations. If the EU is willing to engage in this cooperation, it must deal with the major disputes opposing the two parties beforehand.
It is argued that while it is important for the EU to avoid new dependencies on other authoritarian regimes, sometimes diversification would require the EU to occasionally set aside the importance of human rights and democracy (Ondarza and Overhaus, 2022). This opens the door for criticism, as the EU would economically support countries that foster values they have always fought against. This could become a moral contradiction, possibly accelerating the downfall of Europe’s credibility on democratic and social values.
The responses available to European leaders are very diverse, and can bring plenty of challenges. In the short-term, replacing the energy dependency on Russia will strengthen the EU’s diplomatic relationships with other suppliers. The effects the crisis will have on the diplomatic scene in the long-term are largely unpredictable. However, this is not only a state matter. As companies and individuals suffer the consequences of such crises economically, the pathway Europe chooses to follow is critical. The question is begged whether this could be an opportunity for the development of renewable energy on the European continent. Renewable energies, being mostly local, and low risk, intrinsically lower a countries’ vulnerability and dependency. The inevitable question is raised: Could the Ukraine crisis accelerate Europe’s Green Energy Transition? In the short-term it is hard to predict, however, this crisis being a vector of Europe’s green transition is desirable. Increasing decarbonated forms of energy which can be produced on Europe’s own soil will significantly benefit the European Union in the long-term.
Discover more about this in the following article written by another of our fellow writers: The Ukraine Crisis: A Vector or Barrier to Europe’s Green Energy Transition?
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