EU plans to reduce Russian energy dependence


A two-day summit ended in Brussels today (21 March), with EU leaders tasking the European Commission to come up with a plan for decreasing energy dependence, primarily from Russia. 

Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that the discussions of EU leaders held this morning, had focused on how to reduce the continent’s high energy dependence on Russian exports, which had also been relevant in light of its discussion of the Ukraine crisis.

This morning, EU leaders signed the political chapters of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk saying that the Union needed to speak to Moscow with a united voice, in order to prevent Russia from using energy as “a new nuclear weapon”.

>> Read: Low-key ceremony marks signing of Ukraine’s EU association

Van Rompuy said that if EU leaders didn’t act now, by 2035 the Union would be dependent on foreign exports for up to 80% of its oil and gas.

“Today we sent a clear signal that Europe is stepping up a gear to reduce energy dependency, especially with Russia”, Van Rompuy said. He added that the goal would be pursued by reducing energy demands, through introducing more energy efficiency, by diversifying the EU’s supply routes and expanding energy sources, particularly renewables.

Van Rompuy also spoke of the need for more national and regional gas interconnectors to be built, specifying that those should include the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean area. He also spoke of the need of solidarity in case of energy disruptions, and developing interconnectors with third countries, where relevant.

The Council President also mentioned the planned Southern Gas Corridor, which will bring gas from Azerbaijan to Europe via a planned TANAP pipeline through Turkey, and the Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP), across Greece and Albania, to Italy.

“Further action should be taken to support the development of the Southern Corridor, including further spur routes through Eastern Europe,” the European Council president said. One planned interconnector will bring Azeri gas from Greece to Bulgaria, and possibly to other countries.

Van Rompuy also spoke about the need to facilitate gas imports from the USA, where shale gas has become available for export via LNG terminals. He mentioned the need to include this issue in the ongoing TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership) negotiations with the US.

‘A new way to do energy business’

Alluding to the fact that Russia pursues a policy of ‘divide-and-rule’ vis-à-vis EU countries, Van Rompuy appealed for more transparency on contract conditions, and the need for the EU to “work as a team”, when individual countries negotiate contracts with Russia.

“Sharing more information, bringing more transparency on contract conditions – all that to increase our joint bargaining power”, Van Rompuy insisted. He disclosed that EU leaders had tasked the Commission to come up with a proposal for the June 26-27 EU summit.

“Europe was first built as a community for coal and steel. Sixty-four years later, and in new circumstances, it is clear we need to be moving towards an energy union”, Van Rompuy added.

Speaking at a separate press event, German Chancellor Angela Merkel  also mentioned the Ukrainian case.  She said that Yatsenyuk has asked for assistance with the reverse gas flows project, which German Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger is currently working on, in order to send gas to Ukraine from Germany via Poland and Hungary. Another interconnector via Slovakia is under negotiation.

However, Merkel explained that when Yatsenyuk spoke about high energy prices, many member states in the EU were paying more than Ukraine. It would therefore be difficult for the EU to agree to a lower price in reverse flows than the one Ukraine is paying right now, she said. Merkel forgot to mention that the reverse gas flows use Russian gas.

Merkel also didn’t discard developing shale gas in Europe as an alternative to imports. But she put more emphasis on trying to cut down energy consumption by measures of energy efficiency, and a bigger recourse to renewable energy. 

Another issue discussed by leaders were the climate goals for 2030.

>> Read: Russian energy threat galvanises EU ‘climate hawks’

Van Rompuy said leaders had still some details “to flesh out” before a final decision, but assured that it would be made no later than next October, well in time for the December 2015 UN climate conference in Paris.

The heads of state and government gathered in Brussels for March's EU Summit - their last gathering before the European Parliament elections on 22-25 May. 

Key topic was the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine: following the outcome of a referendum in Crimea on leaving Ukraine, the EU and the US imposed sanctions on a number of Russian and Ukrainian officials early this week [more]. Russian president Vladimir Putin defies the sanctions and showed he is unlikely to lash control over the Crimea peninsula causing a fear of further escalation.

Apart from discussing a way out of the crisis in Ukraine, EU leaders also concluded the first phase of the European Semester; discussed industrial competitiveness; debated the Commission's latest version of the proposal for the 2030 energy and climate package; and prepared an EU-Africa Summit to be held in early April.

>> See the Council Conclusions

  • 26-27 June: EU summit will discuss Commission's proposals for reducing energy dependence from Russia

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