The Brief: EU is a desperate energy junkie

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

EU IS A DESPERATE ENERGY JUNKIE

Energy can be a dirty business. But when you import more than half your supplies every year, sometimes you just have to get a deal done.

The European Union is addicted to energy imports. Its dependence was brutally exposed whenever Russia turned off the taps. These crises gave impetus to the bloc’s Energy Union plan.

About 30% of Europe’s gas comes from Russia and the bloc imports 53% of its energy every year at a cost of more than €1 billion a day.

One major aim of the Energy Union strategy is to diversify energy suppliers in a bid to lessen the reliance on Russian gas and Middle Eastern oil.

This means making friends with governments every bit as authoritarian as that ruled by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Libya, Iraq and Iran have been earmarked as potential suppliers.

Energy and realpolitik go hand in hand. Many governments deal with Saudi Arabia, despite it regularly being branded the worst of the worst in surveys of political rights.

In April 2016, no fewer than eight Commissioners travelled to Iran in a visit to bolster energy ties, even though member states had extended sanctions against Tehran for human rights abuses.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Brussels today.

The pow-wow was criticised by no fewer than 76 NGOs. They urged Juncker to use the visit to raise Baku’s record on human rights. Azerbaijan defends itself robustly from such accusations.

Asked today whether energy supplies or human rights would be prioritised in the Brussels-Baku partnership, the Commission said both were “important”.

Last week, it said that Juncker was not “terribly reserved” when talking to his partners, hinting the Luxembourger could take Aliyev to task.

Juncker even joked to the press, “I’m going to meet the president of Azerbaijan now so the pleasant part of the day is over.”

We may never know what happens behind closed doors. Perhaps wary of difficult questions, the Commission had no plans to hold a press conference with the two presidents.

European Council President Donald Tusk also met with Aliyev. He said they discussed human rights and the importance of freedom of expression. They also discussed the Southern Gas Corridor pipeline.

“Azerbaijan is important for Europe’s energy security and diversification of supplies,” Tusk said.

The EU is an energy junkie. It can only get clean through far greater energy efficiency and domestic renewables.

That is a long way off and policymakers have picked gas as their lower carbon “bridge fuel” to a greener future.

No strongman leader worth his salt will take high falutin’ human rights talk seriously. Not when it comes from an addict who needs his fix.

THE ROUNDUP

British Prime Minister Theresa May should insist that Brexit negotiations are held in “neutral Switzerland”, rather than Brussels, according to Kate Hoey MP. She is a Brexit-supporting member of the opposition Labour party. The Commission managed (just) to keep a straight face and said it would inform Michel Barnier.

Nigel Farage is sharing a £4 million London flat with a French politician. His current wife confirmed they have been “living separate lives” for years.

The European Parliament has scolded the UK tabloid press for bad reporting on Brussels’ alleged demand that sports teams and venues display the Union flag. The Parliament pointed out that the EU has no say on sport policy and accused the papers of “scoring an own goal”.

Hawkish German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said he doesn’t think the UK should be punished during the Brexit negotiations and suggested that the best way to deal with Donald Trump is to watch Angela Merkel and copy her “calm” approach.

A new report has warned that development aid is being siphoned off to house refugees in the EU. The Commission today published a report on the implementation of environmental law across the bloc.

The pressure finally took its toll in Romania. The government withdrew a hugely controversial decree that drew a reported 200,000 people onto the streets of Bucharest. A new bill will be published soon.

Despite not thinking much of it, Donald Trump is going to meet with NATO leaders in May. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told bitter rivals Kosovo and Serbia to “calm down”.

One Polish MP thinks that it is “just a matter of time” before Trump lifts sanctions against Russia, which will worsen relations between Warsaw and Moscow.

France’s presidential race heated up nicely over the weekend, with Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen both choosing Lyon to launch their campaigns.

Beleaguered Republican candidate François Fillon’s days as his party’s candidate might be over soon, but who would they replace him with?

Most French citizens (80%) told pollsters that they would vote for “a leader that is prepared to change the rules of the game”.

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief. 

LOOK OUT FOR…

Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht Treaty. The 1992 agreement created what is now the European Union.

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