Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine has been going on for almost half a year now. Vladimir Putin and his regime are invading the neighboring country with violence, murder and destruction. War is a particularly dirty part of the secular battle of systems: autocracy versus democracy.
The Western camp has imposed unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia. Putin answers on the energy sector. The hot war on the Ukrainian battlefields has turned into a global economic war. Moscow’s “weapons” are coal, oil and gas. Dependence on Russian gas in particular is causing major problems for many European countries, including Germany.
In the spring there were even calls to stop Russian gas deliveries immediately. Looking ahead to winter, however, it becomes clear how difficult the situation is. Putin uses gas as a weapon and cuts supplies. For fear of having to freeze in winter, the Germans stare spellbound at the filling level of the gas storage tanks as they usually do at the drawing of the lottery numbers.
Gas is becoming scarce, especially in Europe. Prices are reaching unprecedented levels worldwide. But necessity teaches thinking. From this point of view, now is the best time to finally press ahead with the Europeanization of energy and climate protection policy more decisively. Progress has been made so far, but national interests have always been more important. This also applies to the German energy transition.
The goal must be an energy union in which the central energy policy decisions are made at European level – and no longer in the member states. Every EU national energy minister must have a permanent second job on the Brussels Energy Council. So that this vision does not become an illusion, there should be only one exception: decisions on nuclear power will continue to be made by the member states, anything else would be unrealistic.
Internally, the energy union would be responsible for coherent solutions based on solidarity, while externally it should guarantee that the member states act as one.
Robert Habeck’s trip to Qatar was intended to signal that the Economics Minister was interested in pragmatic energy policy solutions. But why should the Qataris help Germany out of the gas squeeze in the short term, the country that has been particularly loud in criticizing the emirate for human rights violations? In addition, the Qataris are apparently interested in long-term supply contracts, while the Germans see gas only as a temporary bridge energy.
However, the example of Qatar also makes it clear that the international energy market has changed from a buyer’s market with rock-bottom prices during the corona pandemic to a seller’s market with peak prices. The producers can choose their customers. It looks like this: Liquid gas ships heading for Pakistan turn off shortly before their destination, elsewhere in the world there was more on offer. As a result, Pakistan, which is suffering from inflation of almost 20 percent not least because of higher energy prices, has to turn off the electricity again and again.
The EU, with the concentrated economic power of its 27 member states behind it, can act very differently from individual countries when concluding contracts. This is neither a planned economy nor an intervention in the free market. The EU does not buy itself, it only negotiates the framework conditions for the economy. Diversification is the keyword of the hour to end the dangerous dependency on one or very few suppliers. This is especially true for gas. Many routes and many sources reduce the susceptibility to blackmail.
A good example of this is gas from Azerbaijan. Last month, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev signed a framework agreement in Baku, according to which EU members from the former Soviet republic can import 20 billion cubic meters of gas annually from 2027. So far it has only been 8.1 billion cubic meters per year.
The framework agreement shows how the world is being realigned in the energy sector. Now and in the future, the EU must rely on many more energy suppliers than in the past so that it is never again dependent on one country alone, as was the case with Russia. In addition, a real energy union must also be developed internally into a fully functioning market. This includes efficient transport routes between the member states. In Spain and other southern European countries there are underutilized LPG terminals. A gas pipeline through the Pyrenees and France to Germany would be an important contribution to continental infrastructure.
After all, a European energy union must show solidarity if necessary – things may get really serious this autumn and winter. For example, Germany could depend on gas supplies from France, and France in turn on electricity supplies from Germany. Europe’s power requirements for the winter are not foreseeable. Perhaps electricity supplies from Poland and the Ukraine are also important for Germany and France. The task now is to prepare flexible and fast solutions.
It cannot be ruled out that we will be faced with a comparable situation again in winter 2023/24. It is therefore not enough to extend the service life of the remaining three German nuclear power plants by just three months over the turn of the year. We should leave them connected to the grid for at least another two years in order to be able to provide a basic security for the power supply.
In the controversy surrounding the term extension, it is no use repeating old concerns over and over again. You can change the nuclear phase-out law, and there are fuel rods not only in Putin’s empire, but also in the US company Westinghouse. If, after 50 years of nuclear industry, another 220 fuel rods were added, the repository problem would not be significantly aggravated. You just have to start now, free of ideology. Even Rebecca Harms, for many years leader of the Greens in the European Parliament and leader of the protests against the Gorleben repository, is now pleading for a “pragmatic approach” with a view to extending the service life of the three nuclear power plants.
We are now building LNG terminals for fracked gas from the US and taking it across the Atlantic with huge emissions. A commission of experts considers fracking with the most modern techniques to be responsible, but it is still a taboo for politicians. A clear case of double standards. Of course, like the rest of the EU, Germany can save 15 percent on gas. But how can you demand solidarity if you are not willing to compromise yourself?