Why Forging New Strategic Alliances Could Restore The EU’s Energy Freedom
Amid the current crisis in Ukraine, many commentators have emphasized the role that Africa might play in ‘Europe’s energy dilemma and rescue’. As NJ Ayuk, the Chairman of the African Energy Chamber (AEC), who recently visited the Forschungszentrum Jülich to find out more about its Hydrogen Africa Project (H2Atlas-Africa), emphasized in an article in the online newspaper outlet African Business, “Yes, African countries can help fill the gap. They can provide the ‘Freiheits Gas’ [Freedom Gas] that will wrest Europe from its dependence on Russian pipelines”. Not only does Africa have a valuable reservoir of gas reserves, which is estimated at “150 to 190 billion cubic meters…per year”, but also is Africa standing with Ukrainian refugees as well as African and Indian refugees from Ukraine.
As revealed by Börse München, a current initiative has been launched to “assist approximately 30,000 of the originally 80.000 students of color”, who were trapped in the midst of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict since its beginning in February 2022. The maltreatment and discrimination of “vulnerable students”, as NJ Ayuk underlined, has to be ended and individuals at risk have to be particularly supported in their safe journey to their ‘home countries’ – but, it is also to be expected that the Russo-Ukrainian War will have broad-scale consequences on international cooperation, foreign policy and trade and these consequences have to be discussed now alike. Based on the need to safeguard security in Europe at the current moment and in the near future, and the future need to restore justice, it might be necessary to start forging new kinds of strategic alliances and partnerships in the energy and renewables sectors now.
As argued in an article on Foreign Policy earlier this month, in particular, Germany should look towards Africa to claim independence from Russia with regard to cover its need for gas. While Germany has been highly reliant on Russian gas, its government announced that the country aims to be “independent from Russian coal by autumn” of this year. As POLITICO revealed on 23rd March, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz most recently expressed his concern that becoming independent from Russia immediately would instead lead Germany all the way into an economic recession with “hundreds of thousands of jobs…at risk [and] entire industries…on the brink”. Seeking for ‘additional’ short-term solutions, Scholz clearly spoke himself out for a compromise and a balanced approach with the least associated risk for the German economy and civil society. As the Chancellor emphasized, it is a clear priority to immediately stock up and build LNG terminals at a more rapid speed than ever before with “existing liquid natural gas terminals on the European west coast” being one of the backbones of hope amid the current disaster.
While the German Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck visited a range of countries such as Norway, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the US this month in order to discuss any opportunities, which could help to restore hope in a new energy future independent from Russia, a visit to Africa might indeed still have to take place. Even if Habeck temporarily chose a different pathway, as the Deutsche Welle emphasized in an article from 21st March, this does not necessarily mean that Africa cannot help out the EU and Germany in the near future. As a matter of fact, the EU imported as much as “108 billion cubic meters of LNG from Africa” in 2019. According to the German National Metrology Institute (PTB), the latter is about as much “natural gas [as the amount which] flow[s] each year through the pipeline systems to the end customer” with the latter “correspond[ing] to a monetary value of approximately 20 billion euros”.
In a nutshell, the latter re-emphasizes that Africa has already supported energy security and supply in the EU prior to the crisis in the Ukraine. As highlighted by another article on Deutsche Welle at the beginning of March 2022, in 2019, 12 billion cubic meters of LNG were imported from Nigeria, but Algeria is also highly endowed with a huge pool of LNG having imported 11,750.12 cubic meters to the EU in 2021. Overall, the country’s activities with regard to LNG exports led to it being referred to as “the 10th-largest gas producer globally”. With various planned, currently online and offline gas pipelines leading all the way through Algeria to Europe, the country’s strategic location certainly has to be mentioned as an advantage, should the EU decide to consult Africa amid the current situation or during the upcoming months. With quite a few LNG terminals also being located in Nigeria, it could be imaginable that these two countries could play a lead role in the EU’s plight for freedom.
Next to Algeria and Nigeria, Egypt and Angola have also been highlighted to be potentially attractive strategic and cooperational partners amid the current challenge to maintain the EU’s energy supply. According to Deutsche Welle, Stefan Liebing, a chairperson of the German-African Business Association suggested for Robert Habeck to visit the latter countries in an effort to talk, negotiate and seize new opportunities – however, so far this has not happened. With both Liberia (48,4 billion barrels), Nigeria (36,9 billion barrels), Algeria (12,2 billion barrels), Angola (7,8 billion barrels), Sudan (5,0 billion barrels) and Egypt (3,3 billion barrels) having a huge supply of crude oil and Nigeria, Angola, Egypt, Libya and Congo leading oil production in Africa, the African continent certainly has different types of support to offer, some of which might be a little controversial when thinking back of COP26 in Glasgow and, especially, of the huge support by EU leaders for the decarbonization in Africa.
Thinking back of the inauguration of the International Just Energy Transition Partnership, which “aims to accelerate the decarbonisation of South Africa’s economy, with a focus on the electricity system” as the European Commission specified in November 2021, it certainly cannot be denied that consulting African countries now to temporarily obtain fossil fuels in order to secure the EU’s energy supply in the short- and mid-term constitutes a definite change in strategy. However, radical times might require policy-makers to remain flexible in order to weigh different consequences in context over and over again. Combating climate change must remain a clear priority accompanied by a strong concern for the fight against energy poverty – not only in Africa, but also in Europe. Antonio Gutierres, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General recently said “[t]his is madness [, a]ddiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction” when expressing the concern that the formation of new strategic alliances to reduce the dependence on Russia for fossil fuels could lead to throwing over long-term objectives with regard to their reduction and ban, especially in developing countries.
When looking towards Africa, EU leaders should not forget that support trajectories can certainly be negotiated with a finish date including with countries in the Global South, who would benefit from a more smooth transition with regard to clean energy. Any agreements to cooperate and secure the EU’s short-term energy supply, and meet the latter through the deployment of fossil fuels, could very well be incorporated into a wider narrative, wherein a potential finish date could also mark the beginning of further cooperation in the domain of renewables between Africa and Europe. With Africa and the EU already having affirmed their mutual commitment to promote renewable hydrogen in a joint effort, and with Frans Timmermanns having explicitly referred to the African “continent [as one that] holds some of the world’s best potential for new renewable energy and green hydrogen production, which could be leveraged to enhance productivity, create jobs and improve lives”, it is clear that Africa is very committed to collaborate with the EU both in the short- and the long-term.
Whether or not Germany will still opt to consult African countries with regard to support to secure its energy supply at the current moment, until autumn of this year or after – other European countries should certainly not hesitate to inform themselves about the vast abundance of resources, which Africa has to offer. As emphasized in an article on Euractiv, a wide range of European countries are currently seeking alternatives to Russian gas and oil. To sum up Euractiv’s findings in a nutshell, Greece has been working on forging closer ties with Egypt again, but also Bulgaria; Bulgaria at the same time is struggling heavily from its reliance on Russian gas and oil seeking an emergency exit through Azerbaijan; Romania has been leading talks with Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia; Slovenia has been evaluating the possibility to obtain energy from Algeria through pipelines in Italy and Croatia; Italy has eyed on Congo, Algeria, Qatar and Angola and made public an agreement with Mozambique; Spain has maintained rather independent from Russia due to stronger ties with Algeria, Colombia and Indonesia, but joined an agreement with Greece, Portugal and Italy with regard to a reform of EU electricity markets; France and the UK have also been less dependent on Russia meanwhile Slovakia is in a very vulnerable position, which might lead for it to consider to rely on the Adria oil pipeline
Whereas some commentators have recently argued that Africa “does not appear to be ‘standing with Ukraine’”, especially after African countries and, in particular, South Africa were not explicitly condemning or not even mentioning Russia’s war crimes, the latter fact – irrespective whether it send a very problematic and unacceptable political message, should not receive all the much needed attention as long as various African countries are very well willing to cooperate and provide pragmatic support on the energy side amid this crisis. Whereas being explicit and not complying with war crimes is indispensable in any regional context to be very clear, narratives of hatred should certainly receive less attention than initiatives of support at the current moment. Incorporating African countries actively into actually safeguarding the EU’s energy supply also means to safeguard the energy needs of Ukrainian refugees, who are still arriving in various European countries and might continue to do so in the upcoming months. But somehow there is no grand narrative on how Ukrainians can be involved in safeguarding the EU’s energy future.
Would it not indeed be a chance for the arriving refugees, in case that they are open to this, to work towards a future, which no one can take from them? Africa should certainly support such a future and is ready to support Germany and other EU countries with energy and power as well. With NJ Ayuk having visited various actors involved in the EU-African energy future recently, which included meetings with delegates of the European Parliament and European Commission, discussing the strategic partnership between Europe and Africa, as well as meetings in Berlin, e.g. with CDU’s Africa Group, discussing how to enforce a strategic partnership for a global energy transition and economic growth and two meetings with Germany’s Special Envoy BMBF on Hydrogen and with its Director General for Climate Policy at the BMWI, the AEC certainly has shown its commitment to talk about energy partnerships between the EU and Africa – and addressing energy-related issues might only be the start. As was recently announced by the G7 leaders, an extraordinary session of the Council of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) will take place to address how food security and the agricultural sector has been affected by Russia’s invasion and war on Ukraine. Also in this regard, it might be time to look towards Africa, its resources and will to cooperate towards cultivating a culture of peace.
Feel free to contact the Energy Transition Centre today with questions.
· Julius Moerder, Head of Energy Transition Centre firstname.lastname@example.org
· Oneyka Ojogbo, Head of Energy Transition Centre, Nigeria & West Africa email@example.com
· Leon van Der Merwe, Head of Energy Transition Centre, South Africa firstname.lastname@example.org