Tuesday 29 December 2009

Because it just wouldn't be New Year's without...

...A gas crisis.

EUobserver has reported that there are warning signs of yet another gas crisis on the horizon, with Ukraine looking for high transit fees. Though the article reads as if everyone involved is trying to give off reassuring signals, budgetary pressures on both Russia and Ukraine (though perhaps particularly Ukraine) may work against a quiet solution.

It's stressed that there are enough reserves to see out any cut-offs in supply:

"The EU's executive body has re-assured, however, that there is "no current threat to supplies to households or to businesses" as emergency oil stocks in the 27-nation bloc stand at comfortable level of 122 days of consumption.

Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic also report having sufficient reserves - 118, 94 and 101 days, respectively - figures well above the mandatory 90 days."

If there is another gas crisis, then the EU's response will be very interesting. By now, the EU's approach should be more coherent, given the regularity of the gas crises, but even beyond that the role of Baroness Ashton, the new High Representative, will be worth watching. Would she prove effective at advocating a common position and articulating it? Would pressure be brought to bear more on Ukraine or on Russia, and how? Would pressure be applied (can it be applied) through the Eastern Partnership?

Since the HR's work will be mostly done behind the scenes, and with so many factors outside her control, it may be a difficult to fairly access her approach, however...


  1. The worrying aspect - for Lady Ashton, I suppose (?) - is that Russia is targeting ex-USSR states as likely recipients of gas-cuts (ie non-recipients of gas). Russia has been allowed to play, "divide and rule" with EU member states for too long; as it has been allowed to "sabre-rattle" against ex-USSR states for too long. As you say, it's time the EU played the collective game it was created for.

  2. The EU at the very least needs a coherent energy policy that combines the needs of energy provision, security and environmental policy, and this naturally would have a big impact on relations with Russia. Though this internal policy should be one of the politically more ideologically easy to formulate (who is really against these ideas now?), movement is still very slow on these issues.

    The EU could be a lot more effective by being more united on the internal policies which affect external relations, without massive institutional reform or a massive change in working culture when it comes to foreign policy. On top of that, skillful handling of the EaP and other multilateral chanels would do a lot of good.

    When it comes to sabre-rattling, however, it gets harder - how does the EU deter Russian sabre-rattling if the EU has no sabre to rattle itself? Economic measures would be nigh-on impossible before the EU becomes more energy independant.

    It's a tough problem, but a little bit more coherence could go a long way...