EU must strengthen its cooperation, look to future on natural gas supply

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
A 3D printed Natural Gas Pipes are placed on displayed EU and Russian flags in this illustration taken, January 31, 2022.

The European Union has been forced to deal with soaring natural gas prices in Europe. To ensure a stable supply of natural gas, EU countries must strengthen their cooperation.

Natural gas prices in Europe have more than quintupled since the beginning of this year. In addition to increased energy demand following recovery from the economic slump caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, a decline in the supply of electricity generated by wind power due to weak winds this summer in Europe is another major reason for the soaring natural gas prices.

At a summit, the EU urged each government to extend support, such as providing subsidies to low-income earners and small and midsize companies as an emergency measure. As heating using gas is the mainstream in Europe, measures to prepare for winter are indispensable.

In the medium to long term, the EU decided at the summit to consider joint purchases of natural gas by EU member nations to stabilize natural gas prices. The EU also intends to discuss the establishment of rules for stockpiling natural gas so that members can assist each other with the fuel in case of shortages.

This year’s soaring natural gas prices highlight the fragility of the structure in which the EU relies on Russia, with which it is at odds politically, to secure natural gas. Imports from Russia account for more than 30% of the EU’s total imports.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed her dissatisfaction over Russia’s reluctance to respond flexibly by increasing supplies. There is even suspicion in the European Parliament that Russia has intentionally manipulated prices. This may be seen as a sign of the EU’s strong distrust toward Russia.

However, the degree of distance from Russia varies within the EU. Germany plans to build more pipelines to transport Russian natural gas to the country, while Eastern European countries are increasingly wary of Russia’s growing influence in Europe’s energy supply.

Energy is part of the national security of each country, and is deeply related to their national interests. It will not be easy for the EU to unify these different policies into a single one as its own.

Another challenge facing the EU is striking a balance between tackling climate change and ensuring a stable energy supply.

The EU has been quicker than other countries and regions to implement a greenhouse gas emissions trading system and is rapidly expanding power generation using renewable energy sources such as wind and sunshine. The EU’s achievement of leading the global trend of decarbonization is noteworthy.

However, as currently seen in Europe, power generation using renewable energy is still unstable. Until renewable energy technology is further developed, supplementing renewables with fossil fuels will be necessary. Natural gas, which emits relatively little carbon dioxide, plays a significant role.

The EU’s rush to expand renewable energy sources and move away from fossil fuels may have caused confusion. It is vital not to forget that the promotion of decarbonization policies will be undermined if this EU move adversely affects people’s lives.