It looks like Brussels is finally awakening to the strategic disadvantages of its heavy reliance on Russian energy supplies—specifically, its imports of natural gas from state-owned Gazprom. Of particular concern in recent years has been Gazprom’s ability to divide and conquer the bloc by selling its gas to different countries at different prices, making these contracts into a geopolitical lever. And, of course, the EU is concerned about the precedent Gazprom set in the winters of 2006 and 2009, when it cut off supplies to Ukraine over pricing disputes—a move that had knock-on effects on Ukraine’s neighbors.
Now, as AFP reports, the European Commission is releasing a raft of proposals that would more closely integrate the energy strategies of the EU’s various member states:
The EU will unveil Feb. 9 plans to give it power to examine energy contracts that European states sign with countries outside the bloc, amid concerns about Europe’s dependence on Russian gas [. . .]
Furthermore, Brussels wants to create nine new “energy regions” within the EU, within which member states would help each other out in case of an energy crisis, [energy commissioner Miguel Arias] Canete said
It’s not yet clear how well this will go over within the bloc. Poland has long argued for closer collaboration on energy issues, but Putin hasn’t been sitting idly by while his formerly docile European customers have mooted this idea of working together to loosen his grip, and he seems to have found a partner in Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban to help chip away at any consensus forming from within (the Czech Republic has also expressed skepticism over this plan). Not to mention that, given the way European politics seem to be shifting of late, this sort of “mandatory solidarity” is likely to incite some inflammatory political rhetoric within many EU member states.
Despite those hurdles, this ought to be a top priority for Brussels. Gazprom is already reeling from plunging oil prices (to which many of its long-term contracts are linked), and it’s facing a tougher slog ahead as Europe starts to take advantage of a well-supplied (and therefore a relatively cheaply priced) global LNG market. If the EU can better coordinate its energy strategies, it won’t just save many of its members from price gouging—it will boost the Continent’s energy security as well.