Brussels without Muscles? Exploring the EU´s Management of its Gas Relationship with Russia

Authors:

  • David Harriman

Publish date: 2010-03-26

Report number: FOI-R--2969--SE

Pages: 74

Written in: English

Keywords:

  • EU political capacity
  • Russia
  • gas
  • external and internal factors

Abstract

In many respects, the EU is a strong player on the world stage, for example, in trade, climate change issues and crisis management. In its relationship with Russia over gas supplay, however, the EU´s political capacity remains limited. Part of the problem lies in the lack of EU unity, but this is more a symptom than an actual cause. A key explanation is the interplay between external and internal factors. The external factors - that is the EU´s and Russia´s conflicting interests and the structure of the political system - reinforce the EU´s internal problems. This is an effect of that the gas issue falls under different policy areas (energy, foreign relations and security policy) within which the European Commission and the member states have different responsibilities. Another problem is that energy is the Commission´s responsibility, but the real competence lies with the member states. The current multipolar structure of European politics reduces the scope for cooperation that favours the EU as a whole - in this case its energy security. The fact that the Commission and member states, and the member states among themselves, have different views on energy policy vis-à-vis Russia exacerbates these circumstances. Other key factors are the lack of transparency and competition in the gas sector (which suits both the Russian company Gazprom and large EU companies) and the unbalanced dependence of EU countries on Russian gas. Relations between France, Germany and Russia are also important. Germany and France are key palyers for the EU´s energy security, and their support for the gas pipeline Nord Stream, their resistance to unbundling in the gas sector and their relatively warm relations with Russia have not strengthened the EU´s position in its gas relationship with Russia. Besides, the Lisbon Treaty increases France´s and Germany´s powers inside the EU. Combined with the conflicting interests of the EU nd Russia, the structure of European politics, and different views on Russian energy policy, this limits the room for hopes that the Treaty could strengthen the EU´s power position vis-à-vis Russia.

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