EU, US pledge cooperation on energy security amid Russia threat

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is greeted by US President Joe Biden at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC in November 2021. [Roberto Schmidt / EC Audiovisual Service]

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden pledged on Friday (28 January) to cooperate on guaranteeing Europe’s and Ukraine’s energy security amid a standoff triggered by Russia amassing troops at Ukraine’s border.

In a joint statement put out on Friday – the result of several weeks of talks, according to an EU official – von der Leyen and Biden said they were committed to a “continued, sufficient, and timely supply” of fossil gas to Europe.

“We are jointly committed to Europe’s energy security and sustainability and to accelerating the global transition to clean energy. We also share the objective of ensuring the energy security of Ukraine and the progressive integration of Ukraine with the EU gas and electricity markets,” said the joint statement by the two leaders.

“The United States and the EU are working jointly towards continued, sufficient, and timely supply of natural gas to the EU from diverse sources across the globe to avoid supply shocks, including those that could result from a further Russian invasion of Ukraine,” it continues.

The European Union is currently in the throes of an energy crisis, where supplies of gas are both lower than normal and expensive. The EU’s gas capacity is currently around 66%, according to an EU official.

Moreover, Europe is highly reliant on Russian gas, which makes up around 40% of Europe’s gas supplies. Just under 40% comes from Norway. The rest is made up of internal supply and liquified natural gas (LNG), according to the European Commission.

Any interruptions to the Russian gas supply, such as those that might be caused by rising tensions around Ukraine, would exacerbate the existing energy crisis.

Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops within reach of Ukraine’s border, surrounding it from the north, east and south, raising alarm in the West that Moscow is preparing for a new military assault after its invasion of Crimea in 2014.

The Russian government denies that it plans an invasion and Moscow has cited the Western response as evidence that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.

“Now is the time to prepare, so that we are ready both with a robust [set of] sanctions, but also with our internal preparedness and the energy bit is a part of it, but not the only piece of the puzzle. So to me, there are several pieces of preparedness, but probably the most important one is on energy,” said an EU official.

‘Freedom gas’

The US is Europe’s largest supplier of LNG, nicknamed ‘freedom gas’ for its alleged ability to save Europe from its dependency on Russia.

Now the US and the EU are “collaborating with governments and market operators on supply of additional volumes of natural gas to Europe from diverse sources across the globe,” according to the statement.

“LNG in the short-term can enhance security of supply while we continue to enable the transition to net zero emissions,” the joint statement reads.

But the EU and US’s plan to ensure adequate supplies to Europe may be complicated by the fact that the world’s LNG producers are already producing as much as they possibly can.

Of course, the long-term solution to Europe’s reliance on foreign energy imports is for Europe to increase its domestic supply of renewable energy. This would allow it to become more energy independent and reach its climate goals.

But while the deployment of renewables has been very relevant in the last few years, it takes time to increase capacity in the market, so there is no way of telling when fossil gas use will peak, said an EU official.

“The current challenges to European security underscore our commitment to accelerating and carefully managing the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” the joint statement said.

“The EU’s and the United States’ commitments to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, through clean energy, in particular renewables, energy efficiency, and technologies, provide a path to energy security and reduced dependence on fossil fuels,” it adds.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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