Gas supply is a major factor in conflict between Russia and EU

A single energy market for Europe is still decades away

European Parliament president Martin Schulz has denounced the “repeated and arbitrary” denial of admission into Russia of Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete. Photograph: Emanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

European Parliament president Martin Schulz has denounced the “repeated and arbitrary” denial of admission into Russia of Latvian MEP Sandra Kalniete. Photograph: Emanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Tucked away on the ground floor of the labyrinthine European Parliament building in Brussels is the Anna Politkovskaya room. The parliament’s main press room is named after the Russian journalist and human rights activist who was found dead in her Moscow apartment building in 2006.

Last Friday’s assassination of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov has reignited memories of Politkovskaya’s death. Though five people were jailed last year for the murder of the 48-year-old, the identity of the mastermind behind the killing remains unknown.

Europe’s MEPs have been among the more vocal critics of Russia since the onset of the Ukraine crisis. The European Parliament adopted two resolutions on Russia in January, urging the EU to maintain sanctions and advocating military assistance for Ukraine. Former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, a Nemtsov ally, is due to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg next week, while the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, co-chaired by German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok, is known for its outspoken comments on Russia.

Ban

Martin SchulzSandra Kalniete

But while the parliament has taken a relatively hawkish stance on Russia, the response of other EU institutions has been more ambivalent.

Just over a year since the Maidan protests in Kiev left more than 50 dead and forced the collapse of the Yanukovich government, the EU is facing the prospect of an entrenched frozen conflict at its borders, a realisation that spurred the most recent peacemaking effort by Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s president François Hollande, according to officials.

As ever, economic concerns are weighing on geopolitical decision-making. The EU this year faces a number of deadlines, as the various levels of sanctions on Russia introduced last year are up for renewal.

The issue of energy supply is also weighing on Europe as it considers its long-term response to Russian belligerence. On Monday, the European Commission chaired talks between the Russian and Ukrainian energy ministers in Brussels amid renewed tensions over the issue of gas supply. Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom and Ukraine are in dispute over the supply of gas to separatist regions in the east of the country. While an interim agreement was reached, ministers will meet again at the end of the month to discuss a new “summer package” to govern gas contracts over the coming months.

With the EU dependent on Russia for about a third of its natural gas, half of which is transited through Ukraine, Russia’s status as an energy producer is a major factor in the ongoing conflict between the EU and Russia.

There are signs that the European Commission has been attempting to extricate the EU from dependence on Russian gas since the Ukrainian gas crisis of 2009. Its insistence that Gazprom adheres to the EU’s “Third Energy Package” rules which seek to “unbundle” ownership of energy networks from the sale of energy is believed to have prompted Russia to recently abandon Southstream, a proposed pipeline that would connect Russia directly to southern Europe.

Ambition

Maroš Šefcovic, the vice- president responsible for the Energy Union, described the plan as “the most ambitious European energy project since the Coal and Steel Community”. The idea of an internal energy market has been circulating for decades, but it is beset with difficulties.

Europe’s fragmented energy landscape, both in terms of supply and connectivity, means that a true single energy market is fiendishly complex and economically and politically difficult to implement. The EU is balancing the interests of 28 states, which hold a variety of views on energy supply, with Britain and France championing nuclear; Poland exploring fracking, and Spain struggling to sell its renewable energy across borders.

While the latest Energy Union proposal contains positive objectives such as the further liberalisation of markets, energy unbundling, and promotion of low-carbon models, ultimately the idea of a single market for energy is still decades away. Nonetheless, the current standoff with Russia, may be the catalyst needed for EU policymakers and member states to confront Europe’s energy vulnerability.

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