In Europe, the democratic risk of the energy crisis

 Will we get through the winter without power cuts? At a time when consumption is racing with the arrival of a cold snap throughout the territory, the question focuses the attention of the media, the French and members of the government, all eyes riveted on the EcoWatt app. In addition to this fear in France, there is another in Europe: that of running out of gas for several years because of the difficulties in finding alternatives to Russian gas. Even having to pay terribly expensive structurally. Indeed, the looming competition for the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) between Europe and Asia – also in search of gas to replace coal – risks causing “at best” prices to ‘ very high purchases to snatch contracts, “at worst” a shortage if Asian countries, led by China, were to win the day. And this, from the winter of 2023-2024, alerted the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Monday, estimating the potential deficit at more than 6.5% of total European consumption observed in 2021. has an emergency. Asia’s net import requirements are overtaking those of Europe.

 When industry backs down, anger rises and so do extremist parties

The threat is considerable. Yet it hides another, less visible and more dangerous, which goes beyond the issues of energy sovereignty alone: ​​that of a decline in democracy in Europe. Certainly, it is already weakened with the continuous rise in all member countries of extremist parties, whether left or right. But the energy crisis could deal it the final blow if gas were to run out or if current energy prices were to settle over time. Why ? Because, if confirmed, such scenarios are very likely to sweep away European industry and, by extension, industrial employment, the best defense against the rise of discontent on which the extremes of all kinds are surfing. When industry declines, anger is rising and so are extremist parties. Evidenced by the growth of the far right since the 1980s, marked by the acceleration of globalization and its procession of relocations. But also, for more than a decade, of the far left, which in France has become the majority on the left at the expense of the social-democratic movement.

Willingness to reindustrialize

Ironically, this threat to industry is gaining ground at the very time when the reindustrialization movement initiated in recent years was beginning to bear fruit, in France in particular, and when Europe was finally beginning to become aware of the importance of this sector of activity to ensure its sovereignty.

However, will it be able to realize its ambition, even though the energy crisis is compounded by the threat of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), this colossal American investment plan intended to promote national production? We hope so, but there is reason to be skeptical. The answer can indeed only be collective. However, while European countries have shown solidarity during the health crisis by borrowing jointly to finance national recovery plans or by coordinating their vaccine purchasing policy, they have so far continued to tear each other apart over the various measures to be taken to bring down the price of energy (cap on the price of gas, joint purchases, etc.) or to protect European industry.

While the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen defends the idea of ​​a European “sovereignty fund” to develop a common industrial policy and invest more in research and innovation projects on a continental scale : (hydrogen, semiconductors, quantum computing, artificial intelligence…), Germany has already clearly indicated that common debts are not the solution.

As for a ”  Buy European Act  “, as advocated by France, it seems very complicated to implement. Not only because it is at the antipodes of the Brussels principles of putting the interests of the consumer before those of the workers. But also because the European Union is made up of member countries which, through taxation or labor law, are more competitors than partners.

Consequently, only the continuation of energy efficiency efforts and the forced development of other sources of energy, renewable and nuclear in mind, seem able to stem this disastrous spiral. But in view of the step to be taken in terms of capacity for wind and solar power, and the time it takes to build nuclear power plants, it remains to be seen whether our democracies will be able to hold out until then.