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TematicheAmbiente, Infrastrutture ed EnergiaEnergy Crisis and The European Union’s Approach

Energy Crisis and The European Union’s Approach

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Once established on the foundations of convergence and unity, the European Union (EU) faced common problems that each country alone could not tackle. The environment, citizenship and migration, common monetary and financial issues, energy, and security were important common challenges for the EU members.The EU is the world’s second largest energy market with 450 million consumers; therefore, sustainable, competitive, and secure energy is one of the most fundamental pillars of European security.The dependence of the Union on the import of fossil fuels has led it to focus on macro, joint and long-term policies to reduce energy security risks and challenges. Normally, the EU supplies its energy needs from the neighbors; while at the moment, there are some problems. 

The EU’s need to import energy, especially from Russia, the world’s largest holder of natural gas resources, has prompted Moscow to step up its efforts to use energy as a tool to achieve its political and economic goals. This could have long-term security implications for the EU. Russia tightens its control over the energy sector and oil and natural gas companies, monopolizes the demand and supply of energy, does not ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, gets the pulse of the Western economy and energy resources in hand, and makes itself the sole source of energy due to the EU’s dependence.In fact, although the energy factor has helped to increase Russia’s relations with European countries since the 1960s, differences in the degree of interdependence in Russia-EU energy relations and differences in the interests and goals of the parties in the field of energy policies have negative impacts on the relations of the parties in this strategic area.As a result, the EU is trying to increase liquefied natural gas imports to reduce its overdependence on Russian gas as energy crises in Europe intensify.

Russia’s economic and political hegemony over energy resources in the Central Asian region of the Caucasus is another challenge that the EU encounters in the field of energy supply and security. These concerns prompted the bloc to diversify its energy and gas routes. In this context, the Nabucco project is one of the new strategies that Europe considers to reach the ultimate aim of reducing the risks and challenges of energy security.The EU also adopts a variety of energy security-related instruments, such as the Energy Security Charter, along with policies to diversify import sources and use other sources to reduce dependence on Russian resources. The EU’s revised interests in energy security are driven by domestic factors such as rising oil prices and declining energy production in Europe, as well as external factors such as rising global demand as a result of emerging economies such as China and India. In its many economic and industrial sectors, the EU has also established a policy of enhancing consumption efficiency, utilizing alternative energy sources, and conserving energy.

In recent decades, the Central Asian region’s geo-economic position, reserves, and oil and gas production have increased their importance in international equations. The Russia-Ukraine conflicts in 2008 and 2014 and the cut-off of European countries’ gas further encouraged the EU to look for new energy sources and expand ties with Central Asian countries. The scope of these relations became wider and deeper, especially after the Lisbon Treaty, which was an attempt to integrate and make the EU more efficient in the international system. The treaty has had significant results in promoting European values ​​and developing the EU’s foreign relations with developing countries, especially the oil-rich countries of Central Asia.Information on the execution of the process of sustainable energy transition in Central Asian countries is scarce. These are resource-rich countries that export and transit energy; but the sustainable energy transition is at a low point. These countries lack a sufficient regulatory framework. As a result, energy transitions are difficult to be implemented in Central Asian nations in conformity with EU or global rules and standards.

The importance of energy cooperation between the EU and Turkey was emphasized due to Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022; and once again, Europe’s severe reliance on Russian natural gas got bold. Energy relations between the EU and Turkey have long been a crucial component of their relationship. As a result, the topic is a strategic priority for the EU. Turkey aspires to become a conduit for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy supplies to reach European consumer markets. This strategic relationship was founded on two gas pipelines running through Turkey. The EU-Turkey High Level Energy Dialogue – an essential platform for the EU and Turkey to strengthen energy cooperation – was launched on March 16, 2015, but blocked since 2016 owing to Turkey’s domestic political circumstances and its tensions with the EU. Turkey’s electrical commerce with European countries is likewise severely constrained. As a result, even if natural gas will be utilized for a long time and Turkey’s role as a transit nation remains crucial to some extent, fossil-fuel-based cooperation will unavoidably fade away with the Green Deal and the energy transition.

Qatar has emerged as a crucial pillar of the EU’s strategy in the search for energy diversification. Given Qatar’s dominant role in the liquefied natural gas market and close ties with the West, the EU and the US have recently engaged Qatar intensively as Doha has increased influence over the sector and its export policies. Qatar has shown readiness to help strengthen European energy security and diversification plans during the crisis. However, the chances of Europe receiving further Qatari liquefied natural gas quantities in the near future are lower because Qatar now lacks spare liquefied natural gas export capacity. Qatari energy is mostly sold to Asian purchasers under long-term contracts, leaving little room for quota expansion. Qatar has no intention of jeopardizing its image as a trustworthy supplier by breaking or renegotiating long-term contracts, which it regards as sacrosanct. Furthermore, Qatari contracts are considered to be strict, with restrictions on third-party diversions and resale of Qatari liquefied natural gas shipments. 

Given all these challenges, the security of European energy supply is currently facing a serious risk. The increasing demands of West Asian countries (China and India) and their investment in Iranian energy fields play a critical role in Europe’s future. To address their vulnerability to energy dependence, European countries should look for new alternatives.Because of its position in the world’s oil and gas resources, strategic importance in the world, and strategic position in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, Iran can be considered as a suitable option to reduce the risks of European energy security; however, sanctions prevent any measures from being implemented.

Finally, and considering the geo-economic situation and the amount of oil and gas reserves in the Republic of Azerbaijan, the questions in the field of the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU in the energy sector have been changing roles of energy in the EU’s cooperation with Azerbaijan since 2006 and the reason for the importance of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the EU’s energy policy. In response, it should be noted that Russia’s political use of energy tools to put pressure on the EU and its growing need for energy imports have created the conditions for increased cooperation between Europe and Azerbaijan through international corridors, and the widening of the relations between the EU and Azerbaijan has increased the bargaining power of the Union.Based on the EU-Azerbaijan Energy Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), senior European Commission officials and Azerbaijan government representatives met recently to address energy concerns in order to continue and deepen collaboration in the energy sector in order to support the respective energy transitions while increasing energy security. The EU has shown a strong interest in and support for boosting piped gas supplies from the Caspian region as a critical contributor to energy diversification, in line with REPowerEU goals.

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