Do the EU members have concerns about relying on Russian natural gas? Does every European Union member see Russia as a threat?
The European Union is a collection of 28 sovereign states, despite the collective framework of the European Union. Each nation sets its national security and foreign policy. Hence, differences in national strategies and conflicting national interests should not a surprise. The EU lacks the classical attributes of a state. Within the EU, there is no majority rule in decision-making. Therefore, it cannot pursue a specific foreign policy.
The European Union looks profoundly divided, when it comes to a united energy policy, forming two blocks: the first block consisted of the eastern European countries, or the new EU members, who are overwhelmingly dependent on Russian gas – some of them even import 100% of their natural gas consumption from Russia.
They desire to reduce dependency on Russian gas and ambitiously diversify natural gas sources. On the other hand, the western EU members, or the EU founders, are not solely dependent on Russian natural gas. The big members like Germany, France, and Italy buy natural gas from Russia, Norway and the Netherlands or import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas. The European mega-powers might consider maintaining and developing energy ties with Russia as the best strategy to ensure energy security and avoid natural gas supply disruption. Besides, they do not see Russia as a source of concern.
The western EU members, like Germany, France, and Italy, have different energy priorities than diversifying natural gas sources. In other words, the old EU members are less enthusiastic about becoming less dependent on Russian energy imports.
Conversely, the small eastern members, who depend on Gazprom for some 70-100% of their natural gas consumption, do strive to escape Russian energy domination, which is a sort of political struggle related to their transformational shift from communism to liberalism, with a tendency to escape Russian influence. Meanwhile, such skepticism and mistrust of Russia do not exist in the west of Europe.
The schism between European Union members had a negative impact on the EU diversification plans, as the profound division weakened political and financial support for the EU-backed projects and pipelines.
For instance, while the eastern European members were lobbying for NABUCCO, the members of the opposite block were strengthening their bilateral relations with Russia. For instance, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been reluctant to vote for a 200 million EU grant to finance the pipeline unless the EU agreed on monetizing the Nord Stream pipeline. Neither France nor Italy supports a European energy union explicitly. As France imports, natural gas from Algeria, Norway, and Egypt, France did not want to support pipelines that could serve Turkish interests – due to its political problems with Turkey (Biggest transit country). In regard to Italy, the Italian energy company ENI was Gazprom`s main partner in the South Stream project and Italy was slated to become one of the two destination points for Russia`s South Stream.
Eastern European countries are politically motivated to diversify their energy supply sources. Such a fear traces back to their historical and political communist background, and their desire to prevent Russia from interfering in the internal affairs of Eastern European countries. Meanwhile, such fears in a country like Germany or France are irrelevant. Simply, they are too strong to fear Russian interference.
However, there is a discourse among the Europeans over their understanding of diversification concept. For some eastern members, diversification means moving away from Russian natural gas completely, by importing natural gas from new sources in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. For others, diversification only means diversifying the infrastructure and routes, which means building new pipelines that bypass Ukraine, not necessarily ignoring Russia completely.
In conclusion, such division within the European Union offers Russia a fertile maneuvering ground in Europe. The European schism is a top reason of why none of the European-backed pipelines has achieved completion, including ill-fated NABUCCO pipeline.
*Darwn Rahim is a Ph.D. candidate at Erfurt University in Germany. He holds an MA in National Security Studies from the German Armed Forces University. He has served as the personal assistant to the Kurdistan Parliament Speaker from May 2014 to October 2015.