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EU Struggles to Form a More Perfect Energy Union

Energy ministers from 13 European Union member states met in Luxembourg this week to move the ball forward on creating a cohesive bloc-wide energy policy. Incited by Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and supply disruptions to the country, through which some 40 percent of Europe’s Russian gas transits, discussions of a European energy union have gained momentum of late. But as Reuters reports, issues of sovereignty and differing national energy objectives remain obstinate obstacles:

[M]ember states, such as Eurosceptic Britain, jealously guard their right to decide what kind of energy they use, making it difficult to agree the detail of implementing policy goals.

An internal Commission note, seen by Reuters, acknowledges the need to preserve member states’ right “to define policies matching national preferences and circumstances” but it also says national energy plans must complement regional plans and vice versa. […]

Analysts question who will provide the necessary investments needed and whether the 28 EU nations can be persuaded to act for a common good…”In all honesty, the gap between member states has only widened over the course of the past years,” said Tim Boersma, of Brookings Institution, a Washington-based independent think-tank.

Putin will be grinning as he reads this, as divisions in Europe over energy policy serve his interests quite nicely. Brussels first submitted its proposal for the energy union back in March, and Russia countered by courting Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who has been vocal about the potential infringements on national self-determination such a policy might create. Gazprom’s CEO Alexei Miller defended Gazprom’s variable pricing model in Europe by calling the continent’s market “fragmented,” while warning that “[i]f the European Commission will insist on equal prices, the common price is not the lowest price, it will most obviously be the highest price.” Even the Czech Republic, which pays among the highest prices for Russian gas in Europe, is deeply skeptical of the union, perhaps fearful of harming its already precarious position of dependence on Moscow.

It won’t be easy balancing the concerns and interests of so many stakeholders, but the task’s difficulty doesn’t preclude its importance. The EU is at a strategic disadvantage when it allows Moscow to divide and conquer through gas supplies. Shoring up that energy insecurity ought to be a top priority in Brussels and around the bloc.

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