Energy union: the view from Berlin

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Following the announcement of the shared Polish-French idea to develop an EU Energy Union, we’ve asked ECFR  staff from Berlin, Rome, Sofia, Warsaw, and Madrid, to contribute to our “View from the capitals” series. How do the different member states view the proposal? Are the governments going to support it? 

There have only been a few official statements from the German government on the Polish idea of a European Union Energy Union, signalling the former’s reservations over the utility of the idea. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed support for the diversification of the EU’s energy supplies but only within the framework of the concept that the European Commission developed after Russia and Ukraine interrupted gas supplies in 2009. She does not see a necessity for additional steps for a common gas purchase at the moment and is sceptical about a concept that could undermine market principles. Merkel has emphasised that the EU should first work on a common single energy market and only should it further develop a common foreign energy policy.

An ongoing debate in Germany about whether to diversify more comprehensively from Russian gas has intensified with the crisis in Ukraine, but it is seen more as a long-term project than a short-term policy. It is long-term issue, in part, because Germany is simply less concerned. It imports much higher volumes of gas from Russia, making it an important market for Gazprom and providing Germany with a stronger position vis-à-vis Russia. But a short-term fix is also less feasible for Germany. Because of the large volume of gas at issue, it would be difficult for Germany to find a substitute for Russian imports quickly.

German energy companies still have good relations with Gazprom and have no interest in co-operating with other member states or companies on gas purchases. German energy companies generally pay a lower price than central eastern member states. After the decline of international energy prices with the onset of the global financial crisis of 2009, for example, companies like EON and EnBW successfully bargained for a lower price for gas with Gazprom. For these companies, it is a question of business not solidarity; they don’t see European co-operation as necessary to improve their bargaining position with Gazprom.

At the same time, with the German nuclear phase-out and the energy transition to sustainable economies (Energiewende) in, the business concepts of all major German energy companies are under pressure, and they certainly have no interest in seeing more restrictions or dirigisme by the EU Commission or EU member states. The German government also does not share the Polish idea to prolong the duration of the German nuclear power plants beyond 2022 because of the crisis with Russia and the challenges in attaining the 2030 goals for climate and energy in Europe. Public support for the nuclear power phase-out is still very high, and the German public sees the conflict with Russia in a much less critical way than those in Poland do.

This blog is part of a series of views from the capitals on a European Energy Union. You can find the whole collection here.

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