It was the late AJP Taylor who suggested that the efficient (or proximate) cause of the first world war was to be found in the the way the national railway timetables had been drawn up. Without wishing to take issue with Taylor (either for or against), it does occur to me that a certain amount of light may be thrown on the otherwise puzzling decision of Gazprom to throw the tap by taking a quick look through looking the election timetables of all the key players (in both Eastern and Western Europe). I was put in mind of this point by the following opening gambit in what is in fact a very interesting and to the point article in today’s FT:
“Russiaâ€™s row with Ukraine has triggered fresh concern over the security of Europeâ€™s energy supplies and some see nuclear power as the biggest beneficiary.”
Nuclear power, hmmmm. I hadn’t thought enough about this point when I knee-jerked my response yesterday.
A study commissioned by the EU last year warned that, with the arrival of the new eastern European members, EU reliance on Russian gas would increase further. â€œThe vulnerability of the EU to a disruption of gas supplies is growing, partly because of the increased gas imports in general and partly because of the high dependence on a single source, Russia, of the new member states,â€ the study found.
â€œThe ability to diversify…is limited due to the fixed infrastructure and the organisation structure of the gas industry in Russia.â€ Russia has become increasingly explicit about its intention to use its energy reserves as a foreign policy tool. The question now is whether Europe should work harder to reduce its reliance on imported energy.
One of the few options available to European countries would be to build more nuclear power stations. After the oil shocks of the 1970s, France embarked on a massive nuclear programme, and today, more than three-quarters of its electricity comes from nuclear power…..
Germany, the largest consumer of Russian gas, has promised to close all its nuclear power stations by 2020. But many analysts believe the new government will agree to extend the lives of many reactors when the political climate is right.
I imagine now you can see where I am leading. In Germany, politically, the time may well be right, or as near as damn it. And the ground has been nicely prepared by the aforementioned EU report. Angela Merkel is now in coalition with the SPD, and in theory there is almost the full term to run. The Greens are well out in the cold, and there’s no chance of them coming in from it anytime soon. In addition, any re-assesment of the use of nuclear energy across Europe would surely see the French industry being the principal beneficiary, and this would go down none too badly in a Presidential election year. So I can see who might be happy the Russians did what they just did: I think here there is a before and an after. What I can’t see, in the same way as I have trouble with Taylor’s railway timetable view, is just how this splendid congruence of interests could have extended all the way down the line to that nice gentleman I saw turning the wheel back and then forth.
While I am here I would recomment Jerome’s post over at European Tribune. As he points out, as far as gas supplies go, Gazprom needs us more than we may need Gazprom. But here you need to distinguish between the long and the short run. The dependency fear is one which revolves around being vulnerable to ‘spur of the moment’ blackmail. Just for a moment imagine (as a kind of thought experiment) that we get a Russian government dependent on support from neo-Nazi nationalists (not an impossible, or even improbable eventuality). Then imagine that to keep these partners happy, the Russina government decides to squeeze Latvia, or Lithuania or Estonia (this is the area where I feel we are most vulnerable to Russian pressure). Imagine that this happens in deep-midwinter, and when we say ‘Hoi, hands off’, all the gas heating in Bavaria goes off. I don’t think the present Russia is a partner you can count on, and I don’t think we should be doing so.
So, in a way, I welcome having a debate about nuclear energy. I’m sure a lot of the arguments have changed since last time we held one, and I’m one hell of a lot sure that I would prefer this to a debate about whether or not a certain action by Russia counts as being militarily aggressive. Its just that I would like to know, when my knee jerks, exactly who it is who is doing the jerking.