Putin's return to the Kremlin may signal troubling times for Europe in terms of energy security. Russia supplies Europe with 30% of its oil and 50% of its natural gas. Putin manipulates Russian energy supplies to Europe in order to secure Russia's political and economic interests. For example, Putin halted natural gas deliveries to the Ukraine in 2006. Since the pipelines running through Ukraine carry natural gas to Western Europe, the shutdown caused havoc for several European powerhouses. Moreover, he strove to hinder any agreements between Europe and Central Asian countries vis-à-vis energy supplies that did not directly involve Russia.
This Russian stance elevated the issue of energy supplies to a geo-political concern in the eyes of European policy makers. In order to address the problem, European heads of State should abandon the practice of delegating the energy security issue to their ministers. Rather European leaders should create a new energy security strategy based on developing renewable energy supplies and looking to the south rather than the east for dependable energy partners.
The European Union (EU) should follow Germany's success story when it comes to harnessing renewable energy. In 2008, Germany produced 48% of global photovoltaic energy. Starting in 1979, the German government allocated the necessary funds for an extensive research and development drive pertaining to solar energy. Subsequent German governments strove to overcome the high start up costs associated with solar energy by subsidizing the research process and raising awareness about solar energy's potential amongst educational institutions and the private sector. In order to generate demand, Germany's government created tax breaks for individuals and corporations that elect to invest in solar energy
Despite the German success story, the financial crisis makes it a politically risky proposition to invest in such a project. Solar energy remains a gamble since it is still more economically feasible to harness fossil-based fuels. Overcoming this obstacle requires European leaders to modify their geo-political outlook. Investing in the solar energy industries of south Mediterranean countries, where the Euro has more real purchasing power, and persuading those countries to forgo their plans to develop peaceful nuclear capabilities may be the way forward for countries on either side of the Mediterranean.
Traditionally, cooperation between Europe and southern Mediterranean states was almost exclusively based on security issues such as illegal migration to Europe and the war on terror. Europe delegated the task of extraordinary renditions to countries like Egypt. The recent Egyptian revolution suggests the security-centered paradigm that governed EU-Egyptian dynamics was wrong. The EU should look to Egypt as a partner in developing technologies related to solar energy; especially considering the sunny weather Egypt enjoys most of the year. Germany should invest in Egypt's human capital by sharing its expertise with an upcoming Egyptian generation that is eager to develop a green energy industry. Investing in North African human capital would also stem the flow of migrants.
In order for this new partnership to flourish, European leaders must strive to connect their electric grid to the national grids of countries south of the Mediterranean. The new partnership would resolve the issue of energy storage, which is a deterrent to investment in solar energy. Energy could be transferred between the Egyptian and EU electric grids seamlessly. This is a call for EU governments to discuss solar energy as public policy with Egypt. Furthermore, it is a call for European private enterprise to consider investing in Egypt's energy industry.
Mohamed El Garhi is a graduate student in community psychology at the American University in Cairo. Community psychology is the study of how communities mobilize and organize to bring about social change.