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Governing the EU’s Energy Crisis: The European Commission’s Geopolitical Turn and its Pitfalls

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Abstract:  European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been promoting the concept of a “geopolitical Commission” since her appointment in late 2019. Since then, successive crises—the Covid-19 pandemic, the ever-worsening climate crisis, and the war in Ukraine—have tested the Commission’s intention to turn the concept into practice. This is particularly evident in the field of energy politics following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. When the war started, Russia was the EU’s largest energy supplier. The EU’s desire to end its energy dependency on Russia called for “geopolitical actorness,” notably swift political and diplomatic initiatives to find alternative suppliers considering the rapidly changing geopolitical circumstances. To what extent and how did this occur? Did the Commission achieve its goal of becoming a geopolitical actor in the field of energy politics? What does geopolitical actorness imply for the EU’s energy policy and low-carbon transition? The article addresses these questions through an analysis of policy documents published by the von der Leyen Commission between 2019–2023, including the communications on the European Green Deal and Critical Raw Materials Resilience, the EU Hydrogen Strategy, the Global Gateway, the REPowerEU Plan, the External Energy Strategy, the Solar Energy Strategy, and the Green Deal Industrial Plan. The article argues that EU policy priorities progressively shifted from a focus on broad multilateral cooperation and open strategic autonomy to more narrowly defined strategic partnerships with “like-minded” Western and neighbouring countries. The 2022 war in Ukraine was a strong catalyst for this shift.

Keywords:  energy; European Commission; European Union; geopolitics; Russia

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v11i4.7315

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© Marco Siddi, Federica Prandin. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.