Europe’s Last Straw?

PRINCETON – The European Union is facing a truly terrifying array of crises. After prolonged euro and sovereign-debt crises polarized and radicalized the continent, creating a deep north-south rift, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees has pitted east (plus the United Kingdom) against west. Add to that numerous other divides and contradictions, and the EU’s collapse seems to many more likely than ever.

Consider the wide variations among EU countries’ energy policies, beginning with incompatible energy-pricing structures that run counter to the idea of a single internal market. Countries have also adopted incompatible solutions, making it extremely difficult to integrate national energy networks.

For example, whereas France derives the majority of its electricity from nuclear energy, Germany rushed to close all of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima plant. Now Germany, along with Spain, is focusing on renewables like wind and solar – but remains highly dependent on fossil fuels when there is no wind or sun.

Meanwhile, the security challenge posed by Russia has grown steadily since 2008, and has become especially serious since last year’s illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of parts of eastern Ukraine. Continued fighting and unresolved territorial claims have injected a new sense of urgency into discussions about Europe’s energy policy and, specifically, its dependence on imported energy.