EU energy security and national interests

As repeatedly highlighted in past analyses for Mediterranean Affairs[1], energy security is a vital challenge for Europe as a whole. That is the reason why European Union has been trying to tackle this problem for years through several political and legislative measures (from the Third Energy Package to the Energy Security Strategy) and is mapping the energy scenario through annual reports (the State of the Energy Union). So, if it is true that a unique European approach to the problem is encouraged and maybe needed, it is also true that energy security keeps representing a strong issue of national interest, whose management States hesitate to share[2]. The last case in order of time is the project for the construction of a second Nord Stream offshore gas pipeline, which would directly transport natural gas from Russia to Germany. The project might be profitable from a commercial point of view[3], but it seems to be a t  in terms of European energy security[4].

The Energy Union assumes the Europeanisation from national approaches to energy, towards regional and EU-wide frameworks, namely a process of transitional steps that resembles more a long journey whose end is far to come. It will help to increase continent-wide economies of scale, remove national distortions from the energy market and prevent some EU States free-riding on the emission reduction efforts of other States[5]. In terms of energy security stricto sensu, meaning the uninterrupted availability of energy sources at an affordable price, according to IEA[6], and from its own perspective as an importer economy, EU is trying to reverse the current situation: the European Commission proposed the reduction of the energy demand, an increase in the energy production (including renewable one), the development of a fully integrated internal market, and a diversification of energy suppliers and supply routes. Where are we now? Are States complying with these directives or are they walking through national energy strategies?

Where are we now?

From a geopolitical point of view, gas represents for sure the most interesting case study. Indeed, t  Energy from renewable sources can match two goals in one, reducing the need of imported fossil fuels and tackling the climate change challenge of the EU 2020 strategy[8] and the most recent commitments agreed in Paris. Moreover, energy generated from nuclear power plants remains a significant power source for Europe not likely to decline.

Actually, in spite of the efforts made by European countries, it seems that Russia can preserve its dominant role within gas market. And contingencies may have a role in it; in fact one of the consequences of low temperatures is a geopolitical effect, especially for countries like Italy, where imports of Russian gas in the first days of the new year came to a new historical high[9]: dependence on foreign gas is still above 90% and dependence from Moscow proves to be crucial. The reason for this increased reliance on Russian gas (by Gazprom) lies not only on a growing demand, but also on the scarce shale gas sent by United States in Europe, and in general on the low capacity to import LNG; furthermore, Qatar reduced the amount of gas exported in Europe. Russia, anyway, is not the only country taking advantage from this situation; Algeria too, in fact, through the State-owned company Sonatrach[10] more than doubled its exports to Italy in 2016, in comparison to 2015. The complex web of interdependence involving Europe, Russia, Middle East, Turkey and northern-African countries could be geopolitically reshaped by the Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves[11] but a solution seems far to come.

Euratom wants 100 new stations commissioned by 2050

As said before, nuclear power is still very relevant for Europe, given that about 25% of EU power comes from nuclear: today 132 reactors are still online in Europe, 58 of which in France, that is today the world’s leading nuclear power nation, and some countries, such as United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, expressed to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) the intention to build new ones[12]. The International Energy Agency (IEA), instead, estimated a $704 billion investment in European nuclear power plants between 2010 and 2015. Both the amount of reactors and the amount of investment prove how much nuclear matters in European energy strategies. Moreover Euratom wants 100 new stations commissioned by 2050 that will mostly replace old plants coming offline[13]. To cope with this needs uranium supplies recently discovered in Spain could be very valuable. Berkeley Energia, the Australian company entitled to open a new mine in Salamanca (set to be functioning in 2018), cared about to highlight that no country moving towards a renewable future is doing it without nuclear power in the mix[14]; it is also true that nuclear power could play an important role in a de-carbonized economy and to diversify energy sources of supply, even if some European countries have definitely abandoned nuclear plants (Italy and Austria), decided to decommission existing ones (Germany, Sweden, Netherlands and Switzerland) or have never had them (Ireland, Denmark and Norway). This variety of approaches of course makes a European nuclear policy very difficult to adopt, but also stresses the necessity of a European energy governance able to harmonize different rules and strategies.

Countries are reluctant to give more autonomy to the EU

Security of supplies still is the main concern for importer countries and every national strategy can only be effective if part of a broader and shared idea. The European Union is moving toward it, but in a chaotic way[15]. Even though it is true that the Energy Security Strategy launched by the EU claims the right for the Commission to make checks before the signing of an agreement between a Member State and a third country in order to assess its compatibility with EU rules, it is also true that these checks are not binding. As said before, the energy market continues to be one of those areas in which countries are reluctant to give more autonomy to the EU. By the way, in spite of these troubles, there is no doubt the European Union must confirm its commitment to a fully functioning internal energy market.


Notes

[1] F. Angelone (2016), “EU Energy Security Strategy. Road to rely less on foreign energy sources”, Mediterranean Affairs, 9 March, http://mediterraneanaffairs.com/eu-energy-security-strategy-road-to-rely-less-on-foreign-energy-sources/.

[2] A.F. Rasmussen (2016), “Energy Security in Europe – An individual Approach to a Collective Problem”, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 26 April, http://journal.georgetown.edu/energy-security-in-europe-an-individual-approach-to-a-collective-problem/.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] Global Risk Insights (2016), “Russian-German Pipeline May Break Europe’s Energy Union”, OilPrice, 24 June, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Russia-German-Pipeline-May-Break-Europes-Energy-Union.html.

[5] D. Buchan, M. Keay (2016), Europe’s Long Energy Journey – Towards an Energy Union?, Oxford University Press for the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies.

[6] http://www.iea.org/topics/energysecurity/.

[7] http://www.ogj.com/articles/print/vol-110/issue-1c/regular-features/journally-speaking/defining-energy-security.html.

[8] This strategy aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, increase the share of renewable energy to at least 20% of consumption, and achieve energy savings of 20% or more by 2020.

[9] S. Agnoli (2017), “Gas, mai così tanto dalla Russia”, Corriere della Sera, 22 January, http://www.corriere.it/economia/17_gennaio_22/gas-mai-cosi-tanto-russia-81f50236-e082-11e6-a64d-bf022321506f.shtml.

[10] O. Vukmanovic (2017), “Europe misses out on global LNG surge as Russian gas pumps at record rate”, Daily Mail, 9 January, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-4102406/Europe-misses-global-LNG-surge-Russian-gas-pumps-record-rate.html.

[11] C. Concetti, “Mediterranean Sea, from gas new opportunities for integration”, About Oil, 17 January, http://www.abo.net/en_IT/topics/Mediterranean-IntegrationOpportunity-en.shtml.

[12] A. Lawrence, B. Sovacool, A. Stirling (2016), “Nuclear energy and path dependence in Europe’s Energy Union: coherence or continued divergence?”, Taylor & Francis Group, Vol 16 No 5, July, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14693062.2016.1179616#aHR0cDovL3d3dy50YW5kZm9ubGluZS5jb20vZG9pL3BkZi8xMC4xMDgwLzE0NjkzMDYyLjIwMTYuMTE3OTYxNj9uZWVkQWNjZXNzPXRydWVAQEAw.

[13] B. Hedley (2016), “Uranium supply in Spain set to boost EU’s energy security”, The Telegraph, 30 December, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/uranium-energy/meets-future-power-demands/.

[14] Ibidem.

[15] F. Angelone (2016), “Energy policy: European Union vs Member States”, Mediterranean Affairs, 29 June, http://mediterraneanaffairs.com/energy-policy-european-union-vs-member-states/.