PRAGUE – Every year, it seems, starts with the return of a noxious tradition: the annual dispute between Russia and Ukraine over energy, a dispute that left millions of Europeans shivering last winter. That dispute, in turn, exposes the European Union’s fragmented energy-supply system and lack of political cohesion, which undermines its ability to forge a long-term energy strategy.
Diversification of energy sources is the first step needed to build a viable energy-security strategy. This requires long-term planning and coordination, because the necessary infrastructural decisions will take decades to implement.
Calls for supply diversification stem largely from the EU’s reliance on Russian gas, and Russia’s willingness to use energy for political purposes. Moreover, Russia controls the vast majority of the gas pipeline system, and has negotiated individually with European countries, with the result that it holds a disproportionate degree of leverage over the European gas market.
This system is inherently unbalanced, and must be corrected. New and alternative pipelines such as Nabucco must be built, and closer relationships with other suppliers encouraged. It is unrealistic to call for an end to Russian gas imports, or even an end to Europe’s major reliance on them, but the EU can increase its own leverage by developing alternative sources of supply.