22nd Jan 2021

EU energy policy faces difficult birth, leaks suggest

  • Where will the fuel come from in future? (Photo: European Community, 2006)

Member states' national interests could complicate EU efforts to boost European energy security, it emerged from a European Commission paper leaked to German and Polish press.

"Energy using countries are starting to see each other as potential rivals for [energy] provision...just at a time when Europe imports more energy than ever before. This trend will further accelerate substantially," the leaked text states according to FT Deutschland.

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The draft study was discussed on Wednesday (8 February) by the 25 commissioners and will form the basis of an 8 March green paper on future EU energy policy.

"The choice for an energy mix is a national decision and it should remain so," the leaked report goes on. On nuclear energy, it states "The [EU] cannot infringe the sovereign right of member states to decide for themselves in this area."

The paper also presents a series of practical steps that could boost EU energy security; common rules on minimum gas reserves; coordination of energy transit networks for better crisis-management and the presentation of an annual energy report by member states to the commission.

The new drive to coordinate energy security comes after the Russia-Ukraine gas crunch in early January and falling Russian gas exports, with Italy, Austria and Romania reporting 5-20 percent lower deliveries this week.

The EU currently imports about 50 percent of its oil and gas needs, but this figure could soar to 70 percent in the next 25 or so years with most supplies originating in "geopolitically uncertain" zones, the commission predicts.

Merkel irritates Poland

Energy tensions between member states came to the fore last weekend when chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed German plans to build a Baltic Sea gas pipeline with Russia while attending a NATO conference in Munich.

She stated Poland would benefit from the scheme but her comments "irritated" Polish diplomats, Polish media reported, with Polish defence minister Radoslaw Sikorski saying "I am not convinced."

But member states are keen to explore EU-level energy policy options despite the rivalry, with 22 countries submitting proposals to the commission in the past month.

"I think this shows there is more than a little interest in cooperation," commission energy spokesman Fernando Tarradellas Espuny said, adding that Lithuania, Cyprus and Luxembourg are the only states not to have put forward ideas so far.

"In the details, especially on nuclear power, there could be differences between the member states. But there is also a broad consensus that something should be done at European level," he added.

Mr Tarradellas Espuny explained that future EU energy plans will also have a strong foreign policy dimension designed to increase diversity of supply.

"European energy policy should have an important foreign affairs aspect, this is why external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has been attached to the project," he indicated.

Foreign policy ripples

The blending of EU energy and foreign policy in "geopolitically uncertain" zones such as the Commonwealth of Independent States could have far-reaching consequences, analysts say.

"There is much more at stake for Europe than its own energy supplies," Keith Smith of the US-based think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies argued in a recent report.

"Moscow's increasing control of the energy infrastructure and markets in central Europe has long-term implications for the security and not just energy security, for all of Europe."

Ukrainian diplomats told EUobserver that Russia, which feeds about a third of all German gas and oil consumption, is helping support the breakaway Moldovan republic of Transniestria with free gas supplies.

On top of this, Brussels-based think-tank CEPS analyst Nicu Popescu indicated that Ukraine is reluctant to ally itself with EU political statements on Iran due to efforts to tap into the Iranian gas market.

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