Moscow has long enjoyed leverage over Europe because of its large supply of natural gas, and its recent aggression in Ukraine has been an uncomfortable reminder for Europe’s leaders of the way heavy reliance on Russian hydrocarbons handcuffs their foreign policy options. Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk outlined a solution to Europe’s Gazprom problem in an opinion piece for the FT:
Whether in coal, steel, uranium, credit or gas, the principal idea of the EU has always been to bring Europe together, deepening our security and establishing fair rules where the free market is lacking. An energy union, too, would be based on solidarity and common economic interests.
Such a union would be built on a pretty simple concept: You get better prices when you buy in bulk. By pooling contracts with Russia, Europe would have a much stronger negotiating position than each individual member. But Tusk goes even further, suggesting that Europe should also get serious about pursuing domestic sources of fossil fuels like coal and natural gas:
Europe should make full use of the fossil fuels available, including coal and shale gas. In the EU’s eastern states, Poland among them, coal is synonymous with energy security. No nation should be forced to extract minerals but none should be prevented from doing so – as long as it is done in a sustainable way. We need to fight for a cleaner planet but we must have safe access to energy resources and jobs to finance it.
Both of these measures would lessen Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, but there are also roadblocks to enacting them. The tide in Europe seems to be moving away from centralizing power in Brussels, as domestic fringe parties across the continent, from the UK to France to Denmark, are making gains in the polls by opposing the EU. Compounding the problem, the EU’s ambitious green targets have made it difficult for its member states to tap homegrown hydrocarbons.Tusk’s conjectures make plenty of sense, but it’s the kind of sense that’s been in short supply in Europe lately.