Ukraine situation highlights EU's need to 'reduce energy dependency'

EU heads of state and government have backed plans to reduce Europe's dependency on Russian gas imports in light of the situation in Ukraine. Reports Gerald Callaghan

By Gerald Callaghan

24 Mar 2014

EU leaders gathered in Brussels to hold their first debate on Europe's framework for climate and energy policy 2030, but the EU council summit was dominated by discussions on the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the weighing up of further sanctions against Moscow.

The situation in Crimea has highlighted the EU's dependency on Russian gas exports. Almost one quarter of the gas used in the EU is sourced in Russia and a handful of EU countries, namely Finland, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria, receive almost all of their gas from the Russian state-owned giant Gazprom.

According to Eurostat, in 2003, 45 per cent of the EU's gas came from Russia, however, by 2012, that figure had been cut to 31.9 per cent.

"Energy dependency matters for energy prices, it matters for industrial competitiveness, and it matters for our foreign policy" - Herman van Rompuy

UK prime minister David Cameron played down concerns that sanctions could leave Europe vulnerable to a rise in Russian gas prices, saying, "Europe is about 25 per cent or so reliant on Russian gas, but if you look at Gazprom's revenues, something like 50 per cent of them come from Europe."

"Russia needs Europe more than Europe needs Russia", added the UK Conservative leader.

Cameron was backed by Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen, who said, "Market forces show the biggest impact on Russia", adding, "The stock exchange has come down in Russia because of their own behaviour and also their economy seems to be coming down".

The EU succeeded in increasing its energy security after gas crises in 2006 and 2009, when confrontations over unpaid gas bills between Kyiv and Moscow led to the disruption of supplies to Europe.

The member states urged the European commission to draw up detailed proposals by June 2014 on how Europe can diversify away from its reliance on Russia, and the council also agreed to set October as a deadline for reaching a consensus on climate change and renewable energy targets.

EU council president Herman Van Rompuy said, "Our energy discussions focused primarily on how to reduce our high energy dependency, particularly relevant, of course, in the context of the situation with Ukraine"

"Energy dependency matters for energy prices, it matters for industrial competitiveness, and it matters for our foreign policy", said the Belgian politician.

"It is all about making the EU stronger as a whole versus energy exporters," Poland's prime minister Donald Tusk said as he arrived for the second day of the summit.

However, the delayed decision from the council on the EU's framework for climate and energy was met with dismay by climate change campaigners.

Susanna Williams, the European environment bureau policy officer for energy and climate change said, "Energy security is at the top of everyone's agenda at the moment. Yet the council continues to drag its feet, an inappropriate course of action to say the least when time is so clearly of the essence."

This was echoed by Greenpeace EU energy policy adviser Frederic Thoma who said, "It looks like Putin has EU leaders on a short leash. By failing to move forward on energy policy, they have left the money taps open. Cash will continue to flow out of the European economy and into the pockets of oligarchs from Russia to Saudi Arabia until there is clear support for home-grown renewables and energy efficiency".

"A clean energy system is Europe's best bet for climate protection, energy independence, security of supply and affordable energy prices", added Thoma.

Following the meeting, Van Rompuy remained positive about the EU's ambitions on climate and energy, saying, "As Europe, we need to continue to play our role. Our union is not giving up our ambitions on climate change. This will have a huge impact on our economies, so we were never going to decide everything in one go".

"But this morning we mapped out a solid roadmap for the new EU target on greenhouse gas emissions."

"There are still some elements we need to flesh out before we make the final decision, but I can assure you it will be an early decision, well in time for the Paris [COP21 climate change] conference", added the council president.

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