As almost always happens at the beginning of each new century, we are experiencing a historic moment characterized by profound strategic (the global epicenter shifting to Asia-Pacific), economic (the appearance of developing countries on the international scene), political (jihadist terrorism that goes on to threaten Libya, China’s militaristic temptation, populism in the United States, the breaking up of the Middle East) and environmental changes (global warming). All previous alliances are called into question and new balances of power are being created which, in the years to come, will affect our way of life and our wellbeing (or unease).
Every passing day, in this context, should convince us that we will continue to exist only on one condition: we must advance the European Union. Our defense capabilities, our security in the broadest sense of the term, the protection of our strategic interests, all will depend on Europe’s level of cohesion.
Prices and how the balance of power has changed
While we wait for unity to be consolidated, the landscape is changing: the current decline in oil prices has essentially brought us back to prices prior to the first oil crisis in 1973! In the immediate future, the decline benefits importing countries such as mine [Italy]. However, if it continues, it will severely affect our exports to producing countries.
In the immediate future, even balances of power have shifted. Limiting ourselves to the most obvious cases, Russia (where hydrocarbons account for 70% of exports) finds itself significantly weakened economically; Saudi Arabia, at the peak of its political and religious dispute with Iran, is beginning to suffer setbacks, and some believe that its model is under threat. Tehran, however, has been strengthened by the agreement on the nuclear issue, which gives it back its exchange trading power with the United States and Europe, allowing the country to regain an important role on the oil and gas market.
The French position
From France’s perspective, the oil and gas issue is linked to the fight against terrorism and by the absolute need to take to the battlefied against Daesh. As regards supplies, for some time, Paris has bet on the United Arab Emirates and, specifically, on Qatar, which holds the second largest gas reserves in the world, as well as on Saudi Arabia. In the region, France has always opted for the stability of national governments and, for this reason, in 2003, it refused to take part in George Bush’s war in Iraq. The civil conflict in Syria, however, has led to its taking sides with the moderate opposition against Bashar al-Assad, whom former Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius called “the butcher‘ of his own people. Oil, however, takes a back seat to the primary goal of security, which cannot be separated from French participation in the anti-Daesh coalition, in the knowledge that this movement cannot be defeated without the support of Sunni forces: this is the importance of its link with Saudi Arabia.
In more general terms, France occupies the space freed by America’s retreat within the region: the loosening of relations between Washington and Riyadh and between Washington and Cairo has left the field open to Paris. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are essential for those who wish to restore a semblance of stability to the region. This did not stop Paris from holding discussions with Tehran, using a simple and direct language: we are ready to give maximum impetus to our trade and to participate (via the Total Group) in relaunching oil and gas production. provided that it ends the threat against Israel, and to sign an agreement on the nuclear issue. Such clarity of language demonstrates France’s positive response to Iranian President Rouhani’s recent visit to Europe.
Two schools of thought
However the situation evolves on the ground, there are 2 schools of thought in France regarding energy issues: one holds that we have again entered a period of abundance of fossil fuels and that we must therefore continue to focus on natural gas (which meets the parameters of an ecological transition), this school also believes that renewables and, specifically, photovoltaic power will become profitable and affordable in the short term and will leverage Europe’s energy independence. The second school of thought believes that renewables are heavily subsidized and that the geopolitical uncertainties in oil and gas production require loyalty to nuclear power, an energy source that France has long considered synonymous with independence and with minimal environmental risk. The government, for the time being, has not yet spoken.