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Europe

Analysis: Europe Hopes to Reduce Russian Energy Dependency

This week's EU summit declaration on Georgia was kept markedly short when it came to energy. But the two sentences contain an important message for European leaders on diversifying energy suppliers.

Oil wells lined up next to one another with a cloudy sky in the background.

European leaders want to loosen Russia's control over oil and gas

Section 9 of the EU summit declaration on Georgia was a mere two sentences. The first said, "Recent events illustrate the need for Europe to intensify its efforts with regard to the security of energy supplies."

The Council of Ministers and the European Commission should examine ways to diversify energy sources and supply routes, it added.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told journalists on Tuesday, Sept. 2, that the summit's decision will strengthen and accelerate the policy we have launched. Piebalgs said he plans to present his revised strategy for Europe's energy policy by early November.

His spokesman, Ferran Tarradellas, pointed out that the EU Commission raised the alarm in 2000 when it warned that Europe had to reduce dependency on energy imports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed at the Brussels meeting that new energy resources were needed -- a point that met with general acceptance.

"No one who spoke at the meeting ignored that," said Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk after the talks on Monday night.

Large gas pipeline with a blue cap over the end of it being lowered into place by a crane.

Germany gets a lot of its gas through Russian pipelines

Both Germany and Poland are highly reliant on Russian energy supplies. Some 39 percent of Germany's natural gas and 32 percent of its oil needs in 2006 were met by Russia, according to the International Energy Agency. In Poland, the figures are considerably higher: 46 percent for gas and 90 percent for oil.

EU members like Slovakia or Lithuania obtained their entire gas imports and also almost 100 percent of their oil from Russia. Dependency on Russian gas is just as high in Estonia, Finland and -- to a lesser extent -- in Bulgaria.

Oil is also shipped to Europe from other continents. For gas, the EU is expanding imports from Norway and Algeria, two of its major suppliers.

Keeping oil out of Russia’s hands

The Nabucco pipeline from Austria to Turkey is intended to provide a gas link towards the Caspian Sea, Iran and via Syria as far as Egypt. Work on the pipeline is earmarked to begin later this year and be finished by 2012. This project is part of the reason why the European Union has a strong strategic interest in Georgia.

Every pipeline that avoids Russian soil and control is welcomed in Europe. But diversification can also mean something else, as it emerged from the Brussels talks.

While the geographic location of pipelines was a topic of discussion, some participants took the opportunity to emphasize the necessity of diversification that could include nuclear energy, said one summit participant.

French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has long been lobbying for France's nuclear industry.

The EU Commission officially leaves nuclear politics to the member states and wants to promote diversification via renewable energy, Tarradellas said, adding that Spain was increasingly using solar power instead of gas for heating.

Wind energy also helped reduce dependency on imports. Top priority, though, was energy efficiency.

"It is much better for us to invest in double glazing than in natural gas," Tarradellas said.

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