Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the EU’s condemnation of Russia’s actions has resulted in a difficult situation for many Member States that are dependent on Russian gas for their energy supply. Their Russian fuel dependency has alarmed many stakeholders on the national and EU levels, as well as experts and consumers. However, to what extent are these concerns justified? What could EU citizens expect from their energy bills in the near future?
The EU cannot entirely satisfy its energy consumption with its own resources, so it draws support from non-EU states. In 2019, almost 2/3 of imported energy products included petroleum, gas, and solid fossil fuels. When a high percentage of these imported products are coming solely from a few external parties, this challenges the EU’s energy supply stability in case of conflict with one of these parties. Indeed, in 2019, Russia imported nearly 2/3 of the EU’s foreign supply of crude oil, almost 2/3 of the EU’s external natural gas supply, and approximately 3/4 of its solid fuels from third countries (Eurostat, 2022).
Images retrieved from Eurostat, 2022
Energy import patterns vary between Member States. Large volumes of petroleum go to Cyprus, Malta, and Greece, while Hungary, Italy, and Austria import natural gas. Poland and Slovakia import solid fuels. Exactly how much a country depends on foreign supply to satisfy domestic energy demand is shown by the “dependency rate”. In 2019, that rate on an EU level amounted to 61% (Eurostat, 2022). The individual Member State with the highest dependency was Malta, while the lowest level was recorded in Estonia. This rate reveals a rather worrying trend in the Union, as it keeps increasing despite the EU’s green energy ambitions (Eurostat, 2022).
Image retrieved from Eurostat, 2022
The EU’s Council of Ministers, represented by Member States’ energy ministers, gathered in Brussels on Monday (2nd of May) following Russia’s decision to stop supplying gas to Bulgaria and Poland (EUobsrever, 2022).
The energy giant’s decision was adopted after these States refused to pay for their gas in Russian rubles with the conversion instrument proposed by Russia, since it would breach the EU sanctions plan against the aggressor in the Russia-Ukraine war. This triggered varying reactions among the ministers as Russia expects its next payments at the end of this month. (EUobsrever, 2022) In light of these events, some ministers pushed for stricter sanctions against Moscow, while others have been hesitant.
Anna Moskwa, Polish climate minister, stated that Poland’s energy supply is safe and their gas storage is full. EU ministers discussed joint action for gas supply, such as plans to diversify supplies and augment gas storage. They also deliberated on accelerating the green transition, such as a further decrease in usage of non-renewable sources and the implementation of more energy sources such as solar and wind, as they cannot be weaponized by Russia (EUobserver, 2022).
The Council of the EU also discussed a sixth package of measures against the Kremlin, including an oil embargo. Such a sanction would severely affect the aggressor, as oil and gas represent Russia’s biggest international source of profit. Nonetheless, this discussion provoked a variety of opinions among the ministers. Austria and Germany, which have so far been in opposition to the embargo, have requested some weeks or months to adjust their harbours and pipelines in order to better prepare their domestic energy infrastructure for such measures. Meanwhile, Hungary and Slovakia could drop out of such an embargo all together, as the two countries have an extremely high dependency rate on Russia’s imports. (EUobserver, 2022)
In the background of these events, Bulgaria, the first victim of Russia’s decision to cut its gas supply,finds itself in a difficult political, energy, economic, and social situation and leaves the other Member States wondering who will be next.
Natural gas prices in Bulgaria have drastically increased by 25,3% in April (Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC), 2022). After the announcement by the energy giant Gazprom promising to halt its exports to Bulgaria, a further increase of 35% is estimated in May (EWRC, 2022). In fact, Bulgaria is quite vulnerable in its current state . It imports over 90% of the gas it needs from Russia via the TurkStream pipeline under a 10-year contract that expires at the end of 2022 (Reuters, 2022). Considering this, and the lack of energy diversity, Bulgarian households and businesses will be the ones to bear the consequences. Still, different strategies and new alternatives are being discussed by the cabinet. For instance, vice and finance minister Vassilev commented that Bulgaria will turn toward its neighbours, Greece and Turkey, and increase the amount of Azeri gas as much as possible (Reuters, 2022).
The announcement by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, stating that the era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end, revealed future European plans to cope with Russian gas dependency (Ursula von der Leyen, 2022). Although the Commission will ensure that there is a sufficient gas supply through the RePowerEU plan to help reduce dependency on Russian gas, plans concerning the green transition are yet to be announced, meaning that due to the current situation, the Green Deal seems to be placed in the background (Ibid). However, even if Green Deal plans come into force in the near future, there is still the fact that dependence on Russian gas varies for each Member State. Certainly, states that are more dependent on fossil fuels will be forced to postpone their green transition. Nevertheless, if supply security is not ensured on time, fuel prices will continue to rise, causing more social concerns, scepticism, and political pressure.
Written by Simona Yordanova and Teodora Ivanova, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons
Eurostat. “From where do we import energy?.” Eurostat. 2022. Accessed May 8,
Sánchez Nicolás, Elena. “EU warns next winter may be ‘difficult for European economy’,” EUobsrever. 2022. Accessed May 8, 2022. https://euobserver.com/green-economy/154802.
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