Most Europeans agree that reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy is crucial to Europe’s security and prosperity; that energy can be used as a political weapon, as when Russia shut off gas to Ukraine in January 2006; and that Europe is far too dependent on energy supplies from undemocratic and unstable countries or regions. Yet, despite wide agreement on these matters, there is little consensus about how to address them.
Both boldness and consensus are urgently needed, and those who doubt that Europe is capable of either can take heart from two recent European Commission decisions: a politically ambitious proposal to force the complete separation of networks of pipelines and wires from the companies that supply gas and electricity; and a proposal that Gazprom and other non-EU businesses can control Union energy assets only if they meet tough new conditions, including reciprocal access to, say, Russia’s market for EU energy companies.
But the fundamental problem remains Europe’s vulnerability over energy: an emerging divide and rule strategy over the supply of gas that must be confronted head on. Today’s preference by individual EU members to act unilaterally on energy must be replaced by a common energy policy based on solidarity among member states and unity in defending EU interests vis-à-vis external partners. After all, such solidarity is what allowed Europe to prosper and integrate over the past 50 years. So why not stick to a winning formula where energy is concerned?
Specifically, the EU must develop a diplomatic strategy aimed at strengthening cooperation with all major energy producing, transit, and consumer countries, while creating within the Union a mutually beneficial, open, transparent, and stable energy sector based on reciprocity.