Europe’s New Approach to Energy Security

By: Andrew Johnian, Reporter

Photo Credit: SolarServer

Last week, Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service hosted Sascha Muller-Kraenner to discuss international climate and energy collaboration in the Trump era. Mr. Muller-Kraenner, a top European energy and environmental activist, spoke at the BMW Center for German and European Studies. Over the course of his career he has promoted energy security and sustainability for international policymakers and audiences. Muller-Kraenner spoke of the importance of multilateralism and global consensus in crafting effective energy policy now and into the future. He noted the importance of landmark agreements reached through international institutions such as the G20 Summit, the World Economic Forum and the United Nations, including the November 2015 UN-led Paris Climate Agreement.

Muller-Kraenner also stressed the criticality of the US-Germany relationship and the significance both countries play in providing leadership on energy and environmental issues in the international order.

According to Muller-Kraenner, the election of Donald Trump has forced many in Europe to reorient their strategies in dealing with the United States. Diplomats and energy policy-makers are still trying to determine the best way to approach the new administration at a time when key Cabinet and executive-level agency officials have yet to be confirmed. At the same time, former Exxon Mobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has voiced support for a carbon tax in years past, which some in Europe see as a starting point for engagement and negotiations. A crucial test of the path forward, according to Muller-Kraenner, will come in April when Germany hosts the G20 Summit, which President Trump is scheduled to attend. He noted the energy talks will be spent emphasizing sustainability, promoting a carbon-neutral economy in the developing world, and leveraging the Paris agreement as a driver for technological innovation.

There are also numerous regional and international security issues that will be addressed in the coming months and years. Muller-Kraenner spoke of the need to engage states, provinces, and municipalities in developing energy policies that serve local populations first. This is likely in reference to the rise of migrants, refugees, and changing political conditions throughout the world. Some security experts believe that severe droughts and little access to water have created migratory patterns and widespread displacement in the Middle East and North Africa, which is at least partially responsible for the increased migration to Europe. Further, European governments are grappling with ways to accommodate an influx of refugees at a time when law-enforcement, intelligence agencies, and social services are strained. Migrant and refugee issues have dominated the European political landscape, which has reduced the focus ordinarily devoted to energy and environmental policy. Despite sharp competition from other issues, EU parliamentarians, energy experts, and think tanks continue to fight for room on the legislative agenda.

On intra-European relations, Muller-Kraenner said that eastern and central European countries are less dependent on Russia than at any point in the last 15 years, potentially shaking up energy relations. Much of the Russian economy is based on extraction of natural resources including oil, gas, and minerals that are then exported to the former Soviet bloc. The Russian economy and ruble continue to decline due to Western sanctions, leading to potentially new openings for energy collaboration in Europe. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Poland to discuss energy security issues, an unthinkable prospect only a few years ago.

Muller-Kraenner also spoke of the important role China will play in the G20 talks. China shocked much of the world when they agreed to the Paris climate deal in November 2015 and many in Europe are intrigued by the prospect of China at the negotiating table. While obstacles to cooperation remain—including China’s record on territorial sovereignty and human rights—the Chinese economic model relies on multilateralism and open markets. Muller-Kraenner acknowledged the environmental hazards in China but also highlighted the country’s position as a leader in renewable installations and electric car production.

Muller-Kraenner made clear that US leadership is needed in energy security. As much as countries are developing domestic and national agendas, he spoke of the importance of international institutions in facilitating dialogue and comprehensive reform. This international dialogue may be more difficult as a result of changing global political dynamics, underscored by nationalist and protectionist trends around the world. The Trump administration is pursuing a more protectionist attitude toward trade and economics while nations such as Russia and China have demonstrated aggressive behavior in their respective regions fueled by nationalism.

While challenges and obstacles abound, Muller-Kraenner was optimistic. He pointed to President Trump’s business record as a pragmatist and opportunist as reason to be hopeful; these traits may allow for discussion of policies that promote growth and cutting-edge technology. The inclusion of innovators like Elon Musk to his Council of Economic Advisors suggests promise for upcoming climate and energy negotiations. In conclusion, Muller-Kraenner emphasized the importance of developing a strong economic argument for green policy that cuts across numerous barriers as the key to driving international cooperation for responsible energy and climate policy.

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