“Europe must respond to the growing assertiveness of energy-producing countries with a much more coherent strategy of its own,” writes Jozias Van Aartsen, a former Dutch foreign minister, in a March article for Europe’s World.
This new policy will have to “reach beyond the EU’s borders into south-east Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East and north Africa,” argues the author.
Van Aartsen notes that that “no democracy can be truly sovereign unless, broadly, it enjoys independence in energy,” going on to claim that “many European countries fail to provide affordable energy to their citizens, leading to preventable deaths, mostly from cold in winter, economic losses and sometimes even political turmoil”.
The solution, believes Van Aartsen, lies in a “collective effort to improve the situation”. The long-term goal should be to “develop an integrated market stretching from Europe to central Asia, the Middle East and north Africa,” he argues.
The objective is “not just to make connections between the EU and major energy producers in this region,” but also to “develop long-term energy security in order to promote industrial development, economic expansion and political stability in partner countries”.
In order to achieve these aims, countries would have to be “willing to integrate their energy markets and tackle problems from a common perspective, rather than every state looking after itself,” Van Aartsen says. “They would also have to make basic commitments to democratic values,” he adds, citing the European Energy Community, which “groups the EU with former Yugoslavian states and Albania that are still outside the Union,” as an example of this.
An invigorated energy community, argues the author, could “become a new zone of international prosperity” and a “vehicle to extend peace and prosperity to an even greater number of states”. Moreover, “it could provide a solid basis for increased investment, economic integration and political co-operation in non-energy areas,” he adds.
On the thorny issue of EU-Russia energy relations, Van Aartsen claims “we have a chance today of engineering a win-win solution” because “whatever the headlines, the EU is stuck with Russia and Russia is stuck with the EU – neither has an alternative”. The solution, he argues, is to find a way to depoliticise the relationship, ideally through a legal agreement, and maintain equitable investment relations in the energy sector.
Van Aartsen concludes that “the challenges of climate change increase the pressure on the Union to act”. “The EU must accept that our neighbours’ energy security is our own energy security,” he argues, adding: “We must embrace interdependence and extend energy security guarantees to all our neighbours.”