The EU imports 53% of the energy it consumes. It’s safe to say that not all of this energy is imported from regimes with glowing human rights records. So, do the realities of oil and gas politics ever force Europe to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in other countries? Or to compromise on fundamental European values?

European governments can still vividly recall the gas crises of 2006 and 2009, when Russia turned off gas supplies to Ukraine (an important transit country to the EU market for Russian gas). With a third of EU gas supplied by Russia, when Moscow cut supplies it led to temporary factory closures and a winter fuel crisis in some EU countries, including Slovakia and Hungary.

Yet, in June 2016, the EU decided to extend sanctions against Russia. The Russian “energy weapon” hasn’t been effectively deployed (partly because the struggling Russian economy desperately needs income from energy exports to keep it afloat). Has the link between foreign policy and energy been overplayed?

We had a comment sent in from Algy, pointing out that the EU imports the majority of all energy it consumes, often from politically repressive or unstable parts of the world. Does this energy dependence have a negative impact on EU foreign policy?

To get a response, we spoke to Gerald Stang, an Associate Analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies who specialises in climate and energy politics. What would he say?

gerald-stangI don’t think the impact can be categorically defined as negative. In all of the EU’s interactions with third parties around the world, there’s always a balance to be had. There’s no country or partner outside of Europe with whom we see eye-to-eye on everything, and yet we interact with them, we trade with them, we deal with them in many different ways.

Now, when it comes to energy, it just so happens that a significant number of the suppliers of energy around the world are regimes that would be considered despotic or authoritarian of different types. And, definitely, our relationships with them are going to be influenced by the nature of our trade with them. So, this is why it’s always important to manage the dependencies as much as possible, to minimise the reliance on any one supplier, to ensure that any leverage that can be had from the commercial relationship over energy has as little impact as possible on our wider geopolitical interests. Because, ultimately, we want to be free to say and act how we want in pursuit of important European values and interests without being unduly influenced by any individual energy relationships.

So, it’s a challenge, there is no doubt about that. But it’s an unavoidable one, and it’s one I think Europe has come to improve its position on in recent years.

For another perspective, we also spoke to Ambassador Prof. Dr. István Gyarmati, President of the International Centre for Democratic Transition (ICDT). How would he respond to Algy? Did he agree that Europe’s energy dependence has negative geopolitical ramifications, maybe even forcing it to compromise on human rights issues in repressive regimes?

GyarmatiIt’s quite a normal thing that countries that do not have some natural resources should import it from other countries. It happens to be the case that much of the energy resources are in countries that are not exactly democracies… But this is trade. I don’t think it has to have a serious impact on foreign policy, because it’s not a one-way street. It’s true that we need the energy, but they need to sell it.

So, I think we can, and usually we do, separate foreign policy and human rights from trade. And I think this is the best approach. Nevertheless, I think we are able to exert some pressure on repressive regimes in other countries almost independently from the resources or goods that we import from them. So, it has an impact, but I don’t think it’s a huge problem. It’s a manageable problem.

Is the EU’s dependence on energy imports hurting its foreign policy? Does Europe’s energy dependence force it to compromise on human rights issues in repressive regimes? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Sprinter 73
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34 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    Who we buy energy from is not simply a list of “good” countries, would be nice if it were so but it isnt and this is a fact we have to accept. We should try to buy from nations with shared values but we must also be pragmatic and buy from the bad ones when we need to. Our high moral standard is worthless if it results in us living without power, fuel and in darkness.

  2. avatar

    Yes it does. And having more renewables in Europe would also create more jobs.

  3. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    Analysts & Visegrad academics are not EU politicians- maybe distant advisers.

    What political choices- concerning trade- should have higher priority to benefit the majority of people? Is it unconditional, fair, honest & flourishing trade between nations- undisturbed by questionable agendas of the elite, the EU, US & NATO bureaucrats – or conditional trade used as a dictate- to undermine others and one self at times- to achieve dubious outcomes hurting everyone?

    One step forward- two steps back- to achieve an US/EU/NATO version of world peace or what?

  4. avatar
    Julia Hadjikyriacou

    Quote:”Ukraine (an important transit country to the EU market for Russian gas)” Oh this is why the EU is interested in the Ukraine. I wondered why all the fuss as the EU is not bothered by other countries violations. Well go renewable energy ASAP. The EU motivation can be political and the people’s motivation is to save the planet and end wars.

  5. avatar

    The EU is more threatened by its own inefficiency. For example there is no real dialogue between the elite in the citizens.

    • avatar

      It should start with making social and political sciences mandatory in the school over a long term (4 years, one hour a week, let’s say)People mostly have zero knowledge on what is executive power, decision making power, who are the civil servants etc. Just like mathematics this has to be taught in the school. The “inefficiency” of the EU is the result of being constantly undermined by nationalists/populists/”sovereignists” Guess why we don’t have yet a commonly managed external border?

    • avatar


      In Germany such information about the EU are part of the policy-lessons in school. But I think this is not the main problem. You do not need to know how the social system or the fire brigade is working to see the advantages.

      The problem of the EU is that there is no real dialogue. I now try for 5 years to find such a dialogue, but I did not find yet. So who explains me for example, how the EU-refugee-policy and dying refugees in the Mediterranean Sea are compatible with European values?
      You are right, a problem are the different national egoisms. But I don’t see anyone in the EU, who is willing to change this structure or even to discuss this problem.
      The EU makes me really sad in the moment…

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Hi Mister Ede,

      “its own inefficiency” or democratic deficiency? Trade dependency needs careful & sensitive- not ruthless Geo global foreign politicking- driven by corporate US/EU interests & backed up by NATO.

      The democratic deficit of the EU concept has many facets. Do you believe that Constitutional discussions (“dialogue”) are meant/should or can happen between lone EU voters and politician on whatever hierarchical levels in the EU? Surely, not so intended!

      EU subsidiarity as defined in Article 5 of the TEU and the inconsistency (or in contravention) with the many member states own constitutions should ring alarm bells. EU “democracy” only starts within a group of ministers & corporate lobbyists.

      Example Turkey: a hailed & loved EU candidate (with a huge democratic deficit & contradiction of separation of (its) power. Since 2014 its “separated judiciary” & the whole state & media is basically controlled by one person (“Parliament?”). Besides, the State pays Muslim Sunni Imams’ wages (“secularism?”). Its present head of state (who should only hold a largely ceremonial role with “substantial reserve powers”) – is acting as President, PM, military leader, in charge of the judiciary, religion & media. That seems OK with the general principle of European Union law- being a member state of the Council of Europe & NATO?

      Isn’t EU “subsidiarity” (performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level) slowly & silently being abolished by the EU bureaucrats by removing (eventually) all competences from members. No need for subsidiarity after that anymore!

      It should become clearer as events unfold, that the construction of an “authoritarian” (corporate & military) super state is in progress. How can one still honestly argue (“without blushing”), that the EU concept- with a free “trade agenda”, no borders, one currency, a multi cultural & an “assumed integrate able” society can only function- ultimately- “the EU way” and no other way?

      For how long still is such concept sale able to the majority of voters, except the staunchest EU believers, liberal corporatists & the naive?

    • avatar

      @EU Reform- Proactive

      The difference is that you more or less want to dissolve the EU while I want to reform the EU.

  6. avatar
    Konstantinos Anst

    It is normal, but I think the position of the EU in this sector is improving with renewables playing a constantly increasing role.

    What I find really interesting though, is that countries rich in natural resources, the so-called Rentier States, usually tend to have authoritarian regimes. Which fund themselves through exploiting these resources.

    In order to have a strong economy based on production, services, innovation and trade you need freedom -economic and social- and a few countries have a fertile ground for it.

  7. avatar
    Luis García

    It is not very smart to allow the economy command on the electrical supply. Or subsidize more the carbon than other cleaners. Homo economicus=homo sovieticus.

  8. avatar
    Rosy Forlenza

    yes. blindingly obvious. We should be looking at alternatives, which will vary according to the resources of each country. The sooner we don’t need large amounts of oil and gas that we have to import the sooner we can leave other people alone.

  9. avatar
    Anti-EU Citizen

    We need to desolve the EU and save our nation states and our people’s before Merkel and her German White Guilt destroys us all.

  10. avatar
    Lino Galveias

    the oil we buy is financing terrorists and cartels, interests. Implementation of micro-generation and clean energy policies is mandatory

  11. avatar

    Well, trade sanctions are a political weapon. They happen and usually to enforce foreign policy. So if anything I’d say the opposite is true, the EU trade is affected by foreign policy. But it raises a good point, fair trade petrol, gas and electric! Let the consumers of Europe decide if they wish to pay a little more for their energy to ensure it comes from sources that treat the employers fairly! I like the idea. :)

  12. avatar
    Darren Belitz

    If alternative fuels are desired at any cost, then the U.S. could also make synthetic fuel from its coal reserves. Methanol, synthetic diesel and gasoline made from U.S. coal can replace petroleum-derived fuels for a hundred years, which is long enough to develop sustainable domestic renewable fuels such as cellulosic ethanol or methanol. In Canada and Mexico there is also the concern not to have energy policy dictated by the United States, as well as tension over American ownership of energy companies.

    • avatar
      Imanuel d'Anjou

      the foreign policy that doesn’t like dealing with Putin, Trump, Farage and all other insane dicks of this world

    • avatar
      Roberto Patrone

      Imanuel d’Anjou EU has no foreign policy

    • avatar
      Alessandro Pieroni

      Poor little snowflakes don’t like to deal with grown men. Weak.

  13. avatar
    Bobi Dochev

    I would say it the other way round: EU STUPID foreign policy is hurting the import of the energy resources :)

    • avatar
      Bobi Dochev

      The South Stream protect was profitable , providing lower prices for the south-east countries. Initially it was selected from many other as prioritized – then it was stopped for political reasons… just an example.

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