If anyone is still in doubt as to whether the EU is a stabilizing factor in
the political and economical sphere on the continent, I would encourage them to
try to imagine what could have happened if there was no EU in the Russian-Ukrainian
gas dispute. Many might have wished that the EU had acted more swiftly, used
more powerful means and shown more unity in articulating the problem; nonetheless,
there was a definite reaction and indeed all three political and executive
bodies of the Union have spoken out on the issue. There is now a good chance
that the involvement of the EU institutions and leaders will resolve the
dispute that threatened dozens of millions of EU citizens.
But there are questions to be asked and issues to be discussed in the aftermath. Is the EU sufficiently focused on energy security? Does it have the means at its disposal to effectively take care of the issue? Does it need to create a coherent, common energy security policy? These are only the basic problems that need to be addressed and are coincidently among the key priorities of the current EU presidency.
The EU has apparently not yet come to terms with the Russian strategy - outlined a good year ago - of using energy supplies as a tool in foreign and security policy. Neither has it incorporated the energy security issue into the institutional and legal framework of the common foreign and security policy. It did not create effective means at the international level to secure stability of the crucial supplies, even though it has realized its own large dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. It did not create alternative supply routes that would circumvent potentially fragile bottlenecks, like the Ukraine. It did too little to make the Ukrainians and the Russians sufficiently aware that the energy security of much of Europe depends on how they resolve outstanding issues between themselves. The EU should also have made clearer the nature of the consequences should the Russians fail to co-operate.
As a result, Russia and Ukraine feel free to fight economic and political gas wars every new year, with many countries holding their breath and clutching their hot-water bottles in the freezing conditions. Quite a few of the member states have been left with cold feet, feeling that the EU is weak and incapable of sorting out a problem relating to its mighty neighbour and crucial partner. This does little to help increase confidence and trust in the EU.
In the short term, the current presidency, along with the Commission, has to act quickly and resolutely to restore gas supplies via Ukraine. It should also speed up work on an energy security framework for all the gas-dependent EU member states. A positive approach across the whole EU to a common energy security policy and the incorporation of the energy security issue into its general security policy is a long-term need. Putting these measures in place should start as soon as the newly elected European Parliament and the new Commission take power.
Marek Swierczynski is a journalist with a special interest in defense and security matters and a member of the Polish Euro-Atlantic Society.
Related material from the Atlantic Community:
- Ryan R. Miller: Central Europe's Energy Security Schism
- Thomas Speckmann: Buying Ourselves Into Poverty