Reliable Security Information

Europe's Energy Predicament

The Russia-Ukraine energy dispute, which halted natural gas shipments to the rest of Europe in the first weeks of 2009, highlighted multiple dilemmas confronting the European Union as it seeks to carry out ambitious new "green" energy policies. The incident demonstrates the difficulty of coordinating energy policy--often dependent on outside actors--with climate policy, which mandates goals that might narrow energy options. Absent low-cost, reliable green energy technologies, EU members face limited options: further reliance on gas imports, maintaining old nuclear plants, or continuing with more coal power.

As the European Union moves forward with its climate change goals, natural gas supplies remain stuck primarily in regional distribution markets and relations with Russia have become a greater concern. Russia supplies about 40 percent of EU gas imports, making disruptions a constant threat. Yet a January 2008 report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service shows that natural gas (PDF) has "rapidly become Europe's fuel of choice for power generation." Some experts worry the dominance of Russian gas limits the EU's ability to act robustly on international security issues. During the conflict between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, some saw a direct relationship between gas dependency and the EU divide over sanctioning Russia, with the countries most dependent on Russian natural gas opposing sanctions (Times UK). The EU affairs website says in a policy summary that the "the influence of energy dependence over decisions made by individual EU countries cannot be ignored, despite being difficult to measure."

EU officials also are looking to add more supply outside Russia through new pipeline deals with Caspian suppliers (EurasiaNet) and through increasing capacity to accept liquefied natural gas, which can travel large distances. But so far, countries such as Bulgaria continue to be exposed...

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