When on December 31 2019, Russia and Ukraine reached a tense and difficult five-year gas supply deal, in Brussels they heaved a sigh of relief, with the EU energy Commissioner Maros Sevcovic addressing the agreement as "great news for Europe's energy security”. Indeed, about 16.3% of the European Union's annual natural gas consumption comes from Russia via Ukraine and the agreement should prevent a repeat of the so-called gas wars that previously disrupted supplies and caused real energy problems for several EU member states.
The last decade has seen the eastern Mediterranean region become a hotspot of the global natural gas industry, attracting increasing attention from multiple stakeholders also as a result of its high geopolitical stakes. Notwithstanding this momentum, progress has been bumpy.
Whenever the security of gas supplies is at stake, the shared EU mantra calls for “diversification”. We cry wolf, and the wolf happens to be Russian. The more we cry wolf, however, the more we import volumes of Russian gas. It could just be that when it comes to buying, prices prevail over policies and that in the UE a gas market with transparent prices is finally emerging.
On Wednesday the 5th of February the European Commission proposed a revised methodology for the accession process for candidate and potential candidate countries. This methodology will be applied to Albania and North Macedonia, although for Montenegro and Serbia there has also been foreseen an opt-in in case they want to join.
Boris Johnson has kept his word, and the United Kingdom will finally leave the European Union at the end of January. In little more than six months as Prime Minister, Johnson has succeeded where Theresa May failed: strengthening the conservatives in a national election and carrying the UK out of the EU without further ado. Those who thought that this would close the last chapter of the Brexit saga, however, should reconsider their guess. With the beginning of the transition period, new pages still have to be written.
“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow”. (Lord Palmerston).
Boris Johnson called an election in December 2019. At the time government, parliament, and UK politics in general was log-jammed by the Brexit issue. Unable to move forward towards Brexit or back towards another referendum on remaining in the EU, Johnson cast the election in terms of pitching “the people” against parliament, causing some to see this as a populist election. Parliament was portrayed as divided, divisive and as an institution blocking Brexit.
The vote to leave the European Union marked a turning point in British politics. But it was also a potentially important moment for the UK’s role in global politics. For some of its supporters, at least, Brexit was in part about unleashing the potential of ‘Global Britain,’ allowing the country to trade and collaborate with countries across the world in a way it either could not or had not when in the European Union.
The victory of Boris Johnson in the UK general election could be considered a national endorsement for Brexit, but should not be judged as a breakthrough in reconciliating the factions that are splitting the kingdom. For at least two reasons. First of all, the result of the election confirms that the voters for and against Brexit are more or less the same as they were in 2016, when the referendum took place. Three years of excruciating debate has not shifted opinions in any clear direction.
Boris Johnson has kept his word. The United Kingdom has left the European Union on Friday. However, Brexit is far from over. London and Brussels now need to negotiate the terms of their future relationship in just 11 months (during the 'transition period'). So a new Brexit cliff edge may be just around the corner, with a hard Brexit still an option.