At the recent EU-U.S. summit in Brussels, Belgium, European leaders asked President Obama to share the nation’s shale gas bonanza with Europe by speeding gas exports to help counter the stranglehold Russia has on the continent’s energy needs.
With Russia’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, supplying a quarter of Europe’s gas needs, and almost all of the gas in parts of eastern Europe, the energy issue has soared to the top of Europe’s strategic agenda as a result of the continuing Ukrainian crisis and fears that the Kremlin will try to blackmail Europe if a threatened trade war erupts.
This report, from The Guardian, noted that the impact of President Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula loomed large, affecting transatlantic relations in various ways – from defense spending to energy policies and trade talks.
Obama, while not ruling out the possibility, stressed the need for Europe to diversify its sources of energy in order to make it less vulnerable to Russian blackmail, and said Europe should open up to fracking to develop its own gas supply.
Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso, presidents of the European council and the European commission respectively, asked Obama to come up with measures that would favor European companies obtaining licenses to export U.S. shale gas in liquid form to Europe.
“What we are asking for is a willingness of the U.S. side to be more pro-active on licenses,” said João Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador in Washington who took part in the summit. “What has changed in the last few weeks is the realization in America that energy is used as a political tool by Russia.”
While European access to the U.S. shale gas revolution is constrained by American licensing procedures, a successful conclusion of ongoing ambitious trade talks aimed at creating a transatlantic free trade area would also hasten European access to American gas.
EU officials said they wanted the talks finished by next year while Obama pledged that he would ensure a successful pact would not entail any dilution of consumer or environmental standards under pressure from multinational corporations.