Belgium’s Energy Minister, Tinne Van der Straeten, has called on the European Union (EU) to reduce its imports of Russian gas and transition away from fossil fuels by 2027. Belgium, currently one of the top importers of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG), has expressed concerns about the ongoing flow of Russian gas into the EU through its territory. However, Van der Straeten acknowledges that imposing sanctions on Russian fuel is unlikely due to the requirement for unanimous support from all EU member states.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Van der Straeten highlighted the need for the EU to wean itself off fossil fuels in order to have more control over its energy sources. She expressed her dissatisfaction with the fact that only 2.8% of the Russian gas imports were being used by Belgian consumers, while the rest was being transported to other countries. According to data provided by the Global Witness NGO, Belgium is currently the third-largest importer of Russian gas globally, accounting for 17% of Russia’s exports, behind China and Spain.
The NGO’s report also revealed that the EU is set to import record volumes of Russian LNG this year, despite the bloc’s aim to reduce its reliance on Russia’s fossil fuels industry. Global Witness found that the EU accounted for over half (52%) of all LNG exported by Russia this year. The situation raises concerns about the EU’s commitment to decoupling from Russian gas and transitioning to cleaner energy sources.
Austria’s Chancellor, Karl Nehammer, also acknowledged the challenge of replacing Russian LNG, stating that while it is not cheaper than any other gas, the pipeline system in Europe makes it difficult to find alternatives. Austria, which relies on Russian gas, has opted to continue buying fuel from Moscow to ensure energy supply during the upcoming winter season. Nehammer emphasized the need for a gradual transition and noted that complete independence from Russian gas might not be feasible in the short term.
In contrast, Germany, which previously relied on Russia for nearly 40% of its gas, has decided to limit its import of Russian gas significantly. However, this decision has led to significant gas price surges and concerns about the heating season. German manufacturers have reported a loss of international competitiveness and are considering moving their businesses abroad.
The issue of Europe’s reliance on Russian gas raises questions about the region’s energy security and its ability to transition to sustainable energy sources. While Belgium and other EU countries express a desire to reduce their dependence on Russian gas, the challenges of finding suitable alternatives and ensuring a stable energy supply remain. The EU must work collectively to develop strategies that will facilitate a smooth transition away from fossil fuels while ensuring a reliable and affordable energy supply for its members.