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EU, US discuss energy security as Russia-Ukraine tensions rise

EUROPEAN UNION, 2022/EC - AUDIOVISUAL SERVICE/ROBERTO SCHMIDT
(L-R) Kadri Simson, Josep Borrell, Antony Blinken and Jennifer Granholme at the US State Department in Washington, DC, February 7, 2022.

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The United States will do everything it can to help ease any disruptions to Europe’s energy supply, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at an US-EU Energy Council meeting with US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell, and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson and France’s Ambassador to the US Philippe Etienne.

The US-EU Energy Council is one of the many mechanisms through which the EU and the US are working together to strengthen their mutually reinforcing strategic relationship. “This partnership more broadly addresses the challenges that we all face and that our people face from ending COVID-19 to dealing with climate change to standing up to threats to democracy.  And it’s an increasingly ambitious partnership with the launch of a new dialogue on security and defense planned for a little bit later this year,” Blinken said on February 7.

“A moment like this demonstrates why this relationship is so vital to transatlantic and, indeed, to global security. At precisely the time Europe most needs a stable energy supply to get people through the winter, Russia has attempted to increase its energy leverage.  As the International Energy Agency has noted, Russia’s state-owned companies are currently holding back natural gas supplies, the same supplies that could ease the record high prices the European people are currently facing. As a result, we see people rationing the gas they use for heating, some skipping even a daily hot shower or cooking food in bulk to lower their bills.  And some small businesses are considering shutting doors because of high energy costs,” the US Secretary of State said.

He reiterated US President Joe Biden’s pledge to help ease any disruptions to Europe’s energy supply, noting that the US is already helping the bloc cope with supply shortages. “In the short term, we’re in discussions with governments and major producers around the world about surging natural gas capacity, and the market itself is adjusting.” Blinken said, adding that these efforts are aimed at shoring up energy supply throughout Europe, including Ukraine, whose energy security is particularly threatened by Russian aggression.

“The United States is grateful to the European Union and its readiness to support projects that will allow gas to enter Ukraine from Europe and we’re prepared to help those efforts through both our diplomacy as well as technical expertise. We’re also supporting Ukraine’s efforts to connect with the European electricity grid, an initiative to which we have contributed more than $138 million in recent years,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s grid is now ready and the US is hopeful it may soon be able to connect to Europe’s grid.

He also focused on the essential US-EU longer-term goal of accelerating the clean energy transition so that they can meet their net zero emissions targets and prevent a climate catastrophe.

For his part, Borrell said, US-EU energy cooperation is needed in an environment characterized by geopolitical turbulence, particularly in the eastern neighborhood of Europe. “And while we meet under the gathering storm cloud, our discussions take a greater relevance.  And we need to reassure people that our joint endeavor will make them safer now and more energy secure in the future,” he said.

“I think that we have to send a strong message to show determination to bolster energy security for Europe and for our direct neighbors in Ukraine and in the Western Balkans.  So thank you for the extraordinary positive cooperation in our transatlantic relation that has becoming stronger.  You participate in our Foreign Affairs Council and we are doing with NATO and OSCE a lot, and we have the hope that these challenges will be overcome,” Borrell said.

He said Russia don’t hesitate on using the energy supplies to Europe as weapon for geopolitical gain in the middle of a surge of energy prices worldwide. “We have been calling Russia to de-escalate and we are deploying a new mainly diplomatic effort to convince Russia to choose the path of dialogue, and this must continue. But at the same time, we have to be clear all together that any further aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe costs in response, and we know how deep have we been working on this response,” the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission said.

“We have also reached our major energy suppliers in order to boost our preparedness and to ensure the energy supply remains reliable, affordable, and secure not just for us, for the European Union, for our neighbors too, for Ukraine, Moldova, and the Western Balkans.  I think that this an important point in the agenda today,” he said.

Borrell said the situation has highlighted the need for Europe and the rest of the world to diversify energy supplies, and this is where US-EU strategic cooperation on security comes in. “I think that our starting point today is that clean energy transition is now irreversible.  These are those who wish to slow it down – there are people who say well, in the current circumstances you better – to save the world can wait a couple of years.  No.  No.  In light of the climate emergency, we have to accelerate it and we want the transition to be just globally and inside our societies, because if it is not just it will not happen,” he said.

The EU official warned that an excessive focus on the immediate needs risk distracting them from the bigger picture, because reliable, affordable and secure energy can only come from a decarbonized energy based largely on renewables.  “We are far away of the objective of reaching 2 degrees, let alone 1.5 degrees with a worth – with a world still depending on fossil fuels for more than three quarters of its energy needs – three quarters – and with 600 million African people that have never seen (inaudible), and they need more energy.  So in a world where we have to increase the energy production to fit the needs of many people, we have to take massive urgent action to advance the transition to clean and renewable energies,” Borrell said.

Meanwhile, Simson said a strong partnership between the EU and United States is needed to promote energy security and to drive forward the global energy transition. “In Europe, we are facing high energy prices driven by volatile gas markets and by tensions between Ukraine and Russia, and today’s situation is also exposing some structural challenges which we can address better if we work together.  First, high price volatility shows that the energy transition is not a linear process but a road with ups and downs, and working jointly we can better stay the course,” Simson said, adding that despite high prices, they must preserve the public’s trust and support for the clean energy transition.

“Secondly, this council will mark another milestone in our partnership for energy security in Europe,” she said, adding that despite a decades-long effort for diversification of gas routes, they are very much aware that their gas market is still too dependent on one single supplier and that they need to continue to prioritize diversification not only for Europe but also for Ukraine and their partners in the neighborhood.

 

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Co-founder / Director of Energy & Climate Policy and Security at NE Global Media

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