Forty percent of the European Union’s natural gas consumption is covered by Russian imports. The EU’s infrastructure endowment and the world market situation do not allow it to replace Russia in the short term: According to an analysis by the International Energy Agency, Russian imports could be reduced by no more than one-third in a year, even with considerable effort. The proposal for a full and immediate embargo on energy supplies are therefore unrealistic: the mere floating thereof has caused a threefold increase in gas prices, and its introduction would lead to an economic crisis and supply difficulties.
However, in recent weeks, several politicians and business leaders have tried to steer European public opinion in favour of sanctions by distorting data and consequences. Just one and a half weeks after the outbreak of the armed conflict, European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson said that “Studies show that people in every Member State are willing to make personal sacrifices by enduring higher energy prices and, in some cases, declining the competitiveness of companies, so that Europe can show where the aggressor’s place is.” In reality, a week and a half are not enough to do research at European level, and pre-war research at European level has shown that Europeans are increasingly afraid of rising energy prices, which is a predictable consequence of extending sanctions. In addition, Simson’s statement is certainly not true for all Member States: according to a survey by Századvég in March, 81 percent of people in Hungary for example reject sanctions to restrict gas supplies.
Robert Habeck, the German Minister of Economy, stated on several occasions in late February and early March that Germany would be able to cover its needs from other sources and suppliers in the event of a supply disruption from Russia, and announced that he would instruct his ministry to procure EUR 1.5 billion worth of natural gas of “non-Russian origin” and, as Germany does not have a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility, to begin preparations for the construction of three LNG terminals. But in reality, as Chancellor Olaf Sholz later acknowledged, Germany will not be able to do without Russian gas in the short term: almost two-thirds of its needs are covered from imports and most of them from Russian sources. The order of EUR 1.5 billion is enough to buy barely 1 billion cubic metres of natural gas, which is a small amount compared to Russia’s imports of more than 40 billion cubic metres a year. The construction of LNG terminals will take at least three, but rather five years.
Andriy Kobolyev, former CEO of the Ukrainian state gas company (Naftogaz), have recently tried to convince the European public that the EU should follow Ukraine’s example, as Ukraine has not been buying natural gas from Russia since 2015, its purchases are entirely from the European market: it purchases from Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. However, Kobolyev did not mention that the three countries purchase a significant part of the gas supplied to Ukraine (90 percent regarding Hungary and Slovakia and more than 70 percent regarding Poland) from Russia, thus a European sanction would make the supply to Ukraine impossible.
Misinformation has also appeared in Hungarian public life. Klára Dobrev, a Member of the European Parliament for Demokratikus Koalíció, said in an interview that “European gas reserves are enough for a year”, even though the level of European storage is extremely low; the amount of gas available would be enough to meet the demand for only a few weeks. And the possibility of sanctions on energy sources proposed by Olivio Kocsis-Cake, a candidate of Párbeszéd, as a real and sensible option has also fuelled misconceptions about Russian energy supplies.
Misleading statements made by politicians in favour of energy sanctions could do serious damage to the European Union.
The increase in prices caused by the floating of embargo has already forced many factories to stop production. The actual imposition of sanctions would lead to an economic crisis, supply difficulties and drastically increasing inflationary pressures.
Proposals for restricting energy supplies should not be accepted as they would jeopardise Europe’s stability.