A few days ago, Germany took the decision to “temporarily suspend” the certification of the North Stream 2 pipeline. They stated that Gazprom, the Russian-owned gas giant that owns the project, did not adequately set up the legal status of its subsidiary in Germany. Others argued that Europe’s strategic autonomy means suspending Nord Stream 2 this move was essential.
The decision comes at a time of rising energy prices and with the winter coming, many people across Europe could be facing the tragic choice between eating and heating.
Those who support North Stream 2 reiterate the fact that the pipeline would secure a reliable flow of gas to Europe, as neither Middle Eastern nor North African gas supplies have sufficient export capacity.
They similarly argue that North Stream 2 would directly connect Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, which would end Europe’s dependence on the “unreliable” Ukrainian transit route.
However, there are valid reasons not to approve the project, mainly geopolitical reasons, as North Stream 2 would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, which is known for not respecting the rules-based international order.
In fact, Gazprom itself has been recently accused of restricting gas exports to Europe to accelerate the project’s approval.
The Russian government has, of course, denied those allegations, arguing that the Russian Federation (just like the EU) has to fill its own gas reserves for the winter.
This leaves the EU with a decision to make not just about North Stream 2, but its long term energy strategy within its overall geopolitical strategy.
Currently, the block imports 41 percent of its natural gas consumption from Russia, while only 16 percent comes from Norway, 8 percent from Algeria, and 5 percent from Qatar.
This means that the EU’s energy security relies fundamentally on Russia, which gives tremendous leverage to Putin and its interests in the region, such as militarizing the Black Sea and its coastal states through controlling Crimea.
In this sense, it is clear that the EU’s geopolitical position requires the block to diversify its energy supply.
The EU should therefore increase its domestic gas production, in decline since 2008. The EU should also incentivize production increases not only in the North Sea (despite being considered a mature basin) but also in the eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea (which requires addressing Turkey’s concerns). And finally, the EU should also explore the existing opportunities related to the global supply of liquefied natural gas.
And while none of these options is easy, the alternative is to leave the EU’s energy security in the hands of Vladimir Putin, which is ultimately incompatible with Europe’s overall strategy of “strategic autonomy.”