As Europe reduces its dependence on Russian natural gas, the continent is still grappling with challenges for long-term energy security. Despite successfully diversifying energy sources and bolstering reserves, Europe’s quest for energy independence raises concerns about future ties with China and other unreliable partners.
by Rachel Anderson
When Russia invaded Ukraine, a burning question arose in Europe: could the continent emancipate itself from the Russian natural gas it had long relied on? The stakes were high; Europe’s dependence on Russian energy was seen as a geopolitical vulnerability.
In the past, the European Union had always faced a trade-off when it came to energy. Imported energy was cheap but fostered dependency on the exporting countries, in this case, Russia. Initially, there was concern that Europe would have to moderate its stance against Moscow in the event of a harsh winter in 2022-23, putting citizens at risk of freezing temperatures.
However, a mix of good fortune and careful planning rendered Putin’s energy card ineffective. A milder winter, combined with concerted efforts by European governments and citizens to cut back on gas consumption, provided Europe the opportunity to revise its longstanding “Wandel durch Handel” or “Change through Trade” policy with Russia. In 2021, nearly half of the EU’s gas imports came from Russia; by Q1 of 2023, that number had dropped to a mere 17.4%.
This fortunate weather also allowed Europe to stock up on gas reserves well ahead of schedule, achieving a 90% target by mid-August, making it unlikely for Moscow to wield energy as a weapon in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, Europe has diversified its energy sources.
Yet challenges persist. Despite diversification, many reserves are now filled with liquefied natural gas (LNG), whose origin can be difficult to trace and could inadvertently still benefit Russia. According to Milan Elkerbout, a research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies, “The flexibility and tradability of LNG make its provenance harder to determine.”
The long-term concern centers around Europe’s dependency on other nations for energy supplies. Although the EU is pursuing its ambitious Green Deal to become climate-neutral by 2050, this requires significant foreign aid in technology and raw materials. China has strategically positioned itself as a key player in technologies essential for a green transition, like solar panels and wind turbines.
As Velina Tchakarova, an expert on European security, notes, “China’s state-subsidized capitalism and control of critical raw materials give it a competitive edge, potentially making Europe vulnerable to geo-economic pressures from Beijing.”
To exacerbate concerns, China is still a leading source of cyberattacks within the EU, further complicating potential energy partnerships. Other sources of energy, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Libya, also pose security and geopolitical risks.
As one EU diplomat poignantly observed, “The countries that hold sway in energy are often the least reliable partners or even future adversaries.” The recent success in loosening Russia’s grip on Europe’s energy landscape is commendable, but as the continent seeks long-term solutions, the challenges are far from over.
(Associated Medias) – All right reserved