It’s starting to look like it’s Europe’s turn to learn what Washington’s promises are worth. (Spoiler alert: Not much.) In a letter that the Wall Street Journal editorial board has described as “bullying,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm demands that the nation’s main energy refining companies refrain from increasing fuel exports at a time when America’s allies in Europe are in deep need. “Given the historic level of US refined product exports, I again urge you to focus in the near term on building inventories in the United States, rather than selling down current stocks and further increasing exports,” Granholm wrote, citing “historically low inventory levels of gasoline and diesel in parts of the country.” In other words, America first. Who’s surprised? Europe certainly shouldn’t be – despite what it may have been led to believe.
Granholm’s posture is a far cry from the joint statement issued by the EU and the White House on June 27th, citing cooperation in “working together to find ways to further reduce Russia’s energy-derived revenues in the coming months.” The Western allies claimed “important strides towards reducing the European Union’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels by decreasing natural gas demand, cooperating on energy efficiency technologies, and diversifying energy supplies.”
Where’s that cooperation now? The truth is that the US simply doesn’t have the infrastructure and capacity to meet Europe’s massive needs, and faces environmental pressure at home that complicates its construction. It’s the same rationale that prevented Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from promising Canadian liquified natural gas to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during his visit to Ottawa earlier this month.
The White House stated that it was “partnering to diversify energy supplies to Europe” and that “the United States and other producers have stepped up.” Except that now the US energy secretary is telling US energy suppliers to hide behind the couch and pretend to not be home as the EU runs around worldwide knocking frantically on doors.
It’s understandable that US President Joe Biden and the Democrats would be looking out for their own political interests ahead of the November midterm elections. They certainly wouldn’t want to risk a fuel shortage at home that could hand a victory to the Republicans.
It’s also far from inconvenient for Washington that Brussels is struggling without its cheap Russian gas. Well before the Ukraine conflict, Washington sanctioned the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as it neared completion and was set to transport Russian gas into Europe via Germany. Washington’s concern-trolling argument was that it was bad for Europe to be so dependent on Russia for its energy. So under the guise of protecting Europe from itself, Washington did its best to throttle the project. The end result, of course, is a less economically viable Europe, to Washington’s global competitive advantage.
Russian gas flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline is what turned Germany into the economic heart of the European Union – and, by extension, enabled the EU to compete globally on par with Washington. Reliance on it has never been a problem for the EU until now. And it’s only an issue now because the EU unilaterally cut itself off from its own supply, and is now trying to spin it as the fault of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Blaming Putin and convincing Europeans that it’s all Russia’s fault is about the only chance that European officials have at redirecting public outrage away from themselves amid record high energy bills, shortages, blackouts, rationing, manufacturing shortages, and deindustrialization. Failure to successfully defuse this ticking time bomb of anger could mean civil unrest at home.
It’s not like EU member states didn’t have options. Hungary has been proving that it’s entirely possible to reject anti-Russian energy sanctions when it’s deemed to not be in the best interests of one’s own people and industry. Not only has Hungary secured new energy deals with Russia since the outset of the conflict, but it has also now green-lit the construction of new nuclear reactors to be built by Russia.
Hungary has shown the courage to save itself, while the rest of the EU is imposing greater control on their citizens’ energy use while telling them to brace for austerity. As much of the world has already learned, when America makes promises of a better future after destroying what previously existed, Europe is on the verge of being the big loser in all this. Washington is always looking out for its own interests, first and foremost, as Granholm’s letter confirms. The EU should consider doing the same before it’s too late.