How the Baltic Sea countries can shield Europe from Russia’s energy weapon

By Robert Habeck, Kadri Simson and Dan Jørgensen

The European Union has a unique opportunity to phase out its historic dependence on Russian energy and to take ownership of its energy future; Robert Habeck, Kadri Simson and Dan Jørgensen – politicians responsible for energy from Germany, Estonia and Denmark, respectively – point out four issues the EU needs to do to achieve that.

Russia’s use of energy as a political and economic weapon has put the countries around the Baltic Sea on the frontline of the international energy crisis. But by strengthening energy security, phasing out Russian fossil fuels, and increasing our offshore wind power capacity seven times in just eight years, the region’s countries will play a key role in shielding Europe from Russia’s energy weapon.

To this end, the Baltic Sea Energy Security Summit, held in Denmark on 30 August, brought together the European Commission’s president, the EU Energy Commissioner, prime ministers, presidents, and energy ministers from Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

For centuries, the Baltic Sea has been the scene of international conflicts and rivalry. Today, however, our eight countries are members of the European Union, and now we are significantly increasing energy cooperation.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was as shocking as it was unjustified, and Russia’s subsequent use of gas as a political and economic weapon has highlighted the need for Europe to become independent from Russian energy imports. By withholding its natural gas exports in flagrant violation of existing agreements, Russia is trying to push the EU to the brink of an energy crisis and pressure us to refrain from helping Ukraine.

The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline runs from Russia to Germany. Image by Samuel Bailey, shared under the Creative Commons 3.0 licence.

The phase-out of Russian energy

We have significantly strengthened the collaboration on energy issues over the last decade. The Baltic energy market interconnection plan has been an important building block in this architecture since 2008. But last week marked the beginning of a new era for our energy systems, as our eight countries and the European Union came together and signed the “Marienborg Declaration.” It aims to do four things.

Firstly, we will accelerate the phase-out of Russian energy. To wean ourselves off their fossil fuels, we will for example accelerate the electrification of our energy systems, diversify our energy supply and gradually decarbonise our gas networks.

Second, we have set out a vision to increase our offshore wind energy capacity by almost seven times over the next eight years. By expanding the current capacity of 2.8 GW to at least 19.6 GW, we could be able to power as many as 28.5 million homes. To put this number in perspective, it is roughly equivalent to the total number of households in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Third, in the short run, Russian energy will need to be replaced by increasing imports of liquefied natural gas in some of our countries. Because LNG is transported by sea, we must improve coordination to manage the growing maritime trade around the Baltic Sea. This includes cooperation on the construction of infrastructure, such as ports and LNG terminals.

Finally, we will explore joint cross-border renewable energy projects and identify infrastructure needs to enable the integration of renewable energy needed to ensure security of supply and affordable energy in our homes and businesses, while respecting the countries national energy policy priorities and choices of energy mix.

Globally, the energy sector has undergone a dramatic but often overlooked transition over the past decade. For example, the global average price of offshore wind power has declined by 60% since 2010, and today it can provide cheaper energy than most fossil-fuel sources. Moreover, an increase in domestic energy production capacity will allow us to produce green hydrogen that gradually may be used as an alternative to Russian gas.

The geopolitics of energy is changing before our eyes. The Russian invasion of Ukraine sent geopolitical shockwaves through Brussels, every other European capital and Washington, DC. And while energy has been used as a weapon against Europe many times before, the declining costs of both renewables and LNG, as well as the advent of the hydrogen economy, can be used as a shield to protect us. At this crucial moment, we have a unique opportunity to phase out our historic dependence on Russian energy and to take ownership of our energy future. By doing it, we can show the world that energy should never be used as a tool of oppression, but as a source of cooperation and prosperity.

This commentary is signed by: Khashayar Farmanbar, Sweden’s minister for energy and digital development; Riina Sikkut, Estonia’s minister of economic affairs and infrastructure; Anna Moskwa, Poland’s minister of climate and environment; Ilze Indriksone, Latvia’s minister of economics; Mika Lintilä, Finland’s minister of economic affairs; and Dainius Kreivys, Lithuania’s minister of energy.

Robert Habeck is Germany’s minister for economic affairs and climate protection; Kadri Simson is the EU commissioner for energy; Dan Jørgensen is Denmark’s minister for climate, energy and utilities.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022. The opinions in this article are those of the authors.

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