EU Energy Security: getting back on track?
By Rachele Moscardo, Core Writers’ Group
In its May 2014 energy security strategy document, the Commission stated: “The EU is the only major economic actor producing more than 50% (23% renewable and 28% nuclear) of its electricity without greenhouse gas emissions. This trend must continue. In the long term, the Union’s energy security is inseparable from and significantly fostered by its need to move to a competitive, low-carbon economy which reduces the use of imported fossil fuels.”
Since then, however, the geopolitical fallout of Brussels and the Kremlin following the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, as well as some member states dragging their feet on the green transition, have brought to light the EU’s vulnerabilities in terms of green energy security goals.
What is the EU doing to get back on track?
The broader picture
The European Union relied heavily on Russian energy imports prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, EU countries imported approximately 155 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia, which made up around 45 percent of their total gas imports. Russia was also one of the biggest suppliers of crude oil to the EU before the war, providing approximately 108.1 million tonnes, as well as being the largest supplier of petroleum products with 91 million tonnes. In addition, member states sourced almost half of their total coal import — around 51.4 million tonnes — from Russia. Furthermore, Russian fuel is used to power 18 nuclear blocks in the EU, with six in the Czech Republic, four each in Hungary and Slovakia, and two each in Finland and Bulgaria.
Energy import dependence is, indeed, a fact of life for the EU. For instance, in 2012, nearly 90 percent of its oil, 66 percent of its gas, 62 percent of its hard coal, and 95 percent of the uranium needed for nuclear fuel were imported, with country-specific figures being even more worrying. Hungary, for instance, has 98 percent of its imports coming from Russia, only a part of which could be replaced through a reverse flow from Austria.
In addition to the vulnerability of energy supply, the EU is lagging behind in terms of transition to green and sustainable energy. Such a goal for the Union is set out in the “Fit for 55” package, through which European climate law mandates that the European Union must legally commit to reducing its emissions by a minimum of 55% by 2030 as part of their climate objective. The EU’s overall performance towards this target, however, has so far been “insufficient” with EU-level climate policies and commitments needing substantial improvements to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. If, for instance, all member states were to follow current policies, warming would reach up to 3°C.
Getting back on track?
One step in the right direction has been member states’ diversification of energy suppliers since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. For instance, the imports from Azerbaijan increased from 8.1 billion cubic meters in 2021 to 11.4 billion cubic meters in 2022, while the imports from Norway increased from 82 billion cubic meters in 2021 to nearly 90 billion cubic meters in 2022. Notably, Germany accomplished a remarkable feat in 2022 by working to completely decouple from Russian gas, which had been the country’s primary source. Overall, 72 new energy deals have been signed by member states since the start of the war.
The European Commission has also approved the adoption of the sixth package of restrictive measures against Russia, which includes sanctions against Belarus for its involvement in the aggression against Ukraine. The sanctions are meant to increase economic pressure on Russia and undermine its ability to wage war on Ukraine. The package includes a complete import ban on all Russian seaborne crude oil and petroleum products, which covers 90% of the EU’s current oil imports from Russia.
Most centrally, the European Commission has presented the REPowerEU Plan, which jointly aims to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels, and tackle the climate crisis. The plan includes energy-saving measures, diversification of energy supplies, and the accelerated roll-out of renewable energy. The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) is at the heart of the plan and will support coordinated planning and financing of cross-border and national infrastructure, energy projects, and reforms. In terms of green energy, the plan encompasses measures to accelerate the rollout of renewables, including doubling solar photovoltaic capacity by 2025 and installing 600GW by 2030, doubling the rate of deployment of heat pumps, and setting targets for domestic renewable hydrogen production and imports to replace natural gas, coal, and oil.
One point to be made is that such EU efforts to end dependence on energy supplies from Russia can be seen as less a consequence of EU actions than of decisions taken by the Kremlin itself. For instance, Moscow introduced new rules regarding gas supplies to European customers and stopped gas transport via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, resulting in an 80 bcm decrease in Russian gas exports to the EU. To counteract this, the EU increased its imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by 60% compared to the previous year, which included Russian LNG. This fulfilled the European Commission’s goals to import more LNG, as announced in March 2022.
Finally, despite the potential for a higher emissions reduction goal resulting from the implementation of the REPowerEU Plan, the EU failed to agree to submit an updated NDC before COP27. Instead, member states decided to wait until the “Fit for 55” package is implemented before updating their NDCs. This delay could harm the EU’s position as a climate action leader and represents a missed chance to encourage other governments to increase their climate ambition. The EU must now ensure that its delayed NDC goes well beyond the minimum goal of reducing emissions by “at least 55%”.
All in all, there is still a long way to go for green and secure energy in the EU, making this one of the biggest European policy challenges at present.
Rachele Moscardo is part of the European Horizons Core Writer’s team. She reads Philosophy, Politics and Economics with Social Data Science at University College London (UCL). Her interests include climate policy, European affairs, and international justice.