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Could the GCC save Europe?

Comment
Johann Weick


Just one of the many questions facing the world as we enter 2019 is how will Europe ensure its energy supply security?

Well, the GCC could be perfectly placed to bail out its European allies.

US President Donald Trump has already voiced concern about Europe’s position, describing Germany as “totally controlled’’ by and a “captive to Russia’’ for accepting a Kremlin-backed Baltic Sea natural gas pipeline that bypasses crucial network delivery transit countries in northeastern Europe.

He has a point, despite EU members steadily switching to alternative energy sources while striving for increased energy efficiency.

Oil and gas fired heating systems are working harder in the EU during the northern hemisphere winter, while the Russian military has conducted drills near EU borders not seen since the end of the Cold War.

It is therefore high time for Europe to address its energy security in a more meaningful way.

Renewable energy sources are incapable of ensuring self-sufficiency, so the EU’s energy policy agenda aims to secure its member states a long-term, uninterrupted supply of oil and gas at a reasonable cost

through the formation of an energy union. Yet Russia’s oil and gas resources remain a potential political weapon to use against adversaries, while its assertive military prowess and ramped up geopolitical

activity (annexing Crimea and heavy involvement in Syria) are further reasons for Europe to seek deepened energy relations with other external suppliers.

The UK is leaving the EU in March, taking its North Sea oil reserves with it, and nuclear energy plants in Belgium are out of order due to technical malfunctions.

Therefore, the EU is in need of reliable suppliers capable of managing substantial increases in production.

Those who qualify, and are able to do so due to comparatively low production costs and extremely high average reserves-to-production ratios, include the GCC states.

Their oil and gas fields linked with refineries, crude and refined oil storage facilities, seaport terminals and loading platforms allow them to serve global export markets via sea transport.

However, it is not that simple. The inability to conclude a GCC-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) does not bode well.

Neither does the ongoing diplomatic row involving Qatar, which would likely hinder any broader bloc-to-bloc agreement.

Then there is the issue of EU countries being reluctant about maritime tanker shipping, given the risk of accidents that damage the environment.

In addition, conscious that deposits will at some point be depleted, the GCC states are devising export-discouraging measures to ensure their oil-reliant heavy industries receive the fuel they need now andlong into the future. Concerns also remain that Iran could seek to disrupt global supplies by blocking oil and gas tankers passing through the crucial Strait of Hormuz.

However, these obstacles are not insurmountable. Oil and gas pipelines, stretching from the GCC to the EU, remain a realistic option – and one that would benefit both parties.

Responding to the concerns of President Trump, the GCC-EU Clean Energy Technology Network could prove a platform to explore feasible ways to accomplish enhanced energy co-operation between the two blocs. Current EU-GCC relations are based on a Co-operation Agreement dating from 1988.

Now, more than three decades later, perhaps it is time to take this co-operation to another level.