EU leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss a plan to centralize oversight over how members negotiate gas contracts. Proponents argue that by giving the European Commission dominion over such agreements, the bloc could weaken Russia’s ability to use supply contracts as a geopolitical tool. The FT reports:
Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the European Council, has been a vocal supporter of the plan. But some members states, led by Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are balking at a change that risks antagonising Moscow. […]Poland, which has increasingly warned about Russian efforts to reassert its influence in eastern Europe, is the leading proponent of an increased role for the commission. But in addition to resistance from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, seven other countries have also expressed reservations, according to diplomats involved.
Take for example Hungary, whose Prime Minister has already come out against the proposed energy union:
Budapest, which has drawn closer to Moscow under prime minister Viktor Orban, has recently won more flexibility in its gas payments to Gazprom, and is caustic about EU proposals to play a greater role in energy security. Mr Orban has expressed fears that the EU’s plans for a single energy market could infringe on national sovereignty. “We will have a major problem . . . I expect an escalating conflict,” he said last month.
So national concerns over the potential impending doom of cushy deals are threatening to scupper a kind of collective bargaining approach? It sounds like Putin’s divide and conquer strategy is working perfectly in Europe. Any progress made at this meeting in Brussels will be of deep concern to Moscow, which has long counted on the Europeans as a huge, pliant customer base to which to offload its hydrocarbons. In all the talk over Europe’s reliance on Gazprom, we shouldn’t forget how much the Russian gas firm needs its Western customers, and how much the Kremlin relies on the revenue generated by these sales.Putin for his part isn’t watching these proceedings idly. He seems to have found a partner on the inside in Viktor Orban who will work tirelessly against any kind of Europe-wide energy union; meanwhile, Russia will continue to develop its gas supply relationship with China, with one massive contract already signed and another reportedly on its way later this year.But for Europe, presenting a unified front on the issue of Russian energy imports makes a lot of sense. This summit could be one of the most important Brussels has hosted in quite some time.