Reflections on Europe’s Energy Crisis from a Socio-Economic Perspective

Similar Posts

This post is also available in: Türkçe Русский

European states regarded Russia’s intervention in Ukraine as a violation of international law and a threat to European values and security. While Ukraine was supported within the context of defending democracy and freedom, the Moscow administration was sanctioned and barred from the international arena. Russia, the main player in the European Union’s (EU) energy imports, has resorted to playing its energy card against Europe.

Faced with an energy crisis at a time when the consequences of a series of problems, including the euro crisis, the refugee crisis, Brexit, and Covid-19, the EU has had to reshape its energy policies. In this context, the EU has focused on two policies: diversifying its energy supplies and intervening in demand. To replace Russian gas, EU countries are increasing their imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Furthermore, Union members have accelerated projects aimed at developing the infrastructure required to conclude agreements with other gas-exporting countries.

On the other hand, although the United States (US) is aiming to end the use of coal by 2030, it has been seen that they are concentrating on the use of coal to overcome the energy crisis and produce electricity. Within this context, France reopened the Moselle coal power plant, while Germany’s Minister of Economy Robert Habeck announced the restart of an undefined number of coal-fired power plants. Thus, the plan is to substitute 50 billion m3 of natural gas with coal-generated energy per year.[1]

As it can be understood, the energy crisis calls into question the commitments of European states to shut down reactors and phase out nuclear power. While some countries have decided to delay the shutdown of nuclear reactors, some have accelerated investments aimed at commissioning new nuclear capacity in the long term.[2] However, while Russia and the EU’s energy connection is built on a functioning system, the considered alternatives include the creation of new terminals and the building of new pipelines. Therefore, it is quite difficult for these initiatives to achieve credible results in a short time, both financially and technically.

The other pillar of the energy crisis is to reduce consumption. EU nations have opted to lower their gas consumption by 15% compared to their five-year average.[3]  Furthermore, several cost-cutting measures have been implemented, such as shutting off traffic lights at night and lowering energy use in public buildings.

It should also be mentioned that it is critical for Union members, which lack supply diversity, to reduce gas consumption. Because if gas use is not reduced, several European nations would be forced into recession. The rate of increase in the European Central Bank’s figures for annual average real gross domestic product remained at 3.1% in 2022, down from 5.2% in 2021. It is expected that this rate would fall to 0.9% by 2023.[4] Likewise, inflation is expected to reach an average of 9% by the end of 2022.[5] In other words, the fact that energy-intensive industries must cease production or close for an extended period reduces output. This, in turn, hurts prices, the labor market, and consumer confidence. Therefore, one could argue that unemployment and the cost of living will rise in Europe.

Although governments have begun to take steps to increase citizens’ resilience, such as tax cuts and relief funds, as well as measures such as savings and gas storage; the impact of the crisis on the industry, an increase in electricity and natural gas bills, a higher price increase in households as winter approaches, an increase in inflation, and a decrease in purchasing power have all resulted in social reactions.

For all of these reasons, most European nations are organizing sector-based strikes and protest marches, with the public also rallying behind these demonstrations. So, this will interrupt the flow of work. Czechs, who gathered in Prague in September 2022, with the slogan “Czech Republic First”, to protest rising energy prices, demanded that the sanctions placed on Russia as a result of the Ukraine War be lifted, and that arms sent to Ukraine be halted.

Similarly, in Germany, Lufthansa pilots are on strike for better wages, while thousands of people with banners reading “End Poverty!” protested the cost of living and criticized the government’s policy towards Russia.

After the strike at the oil refinery and fuel depots, transportation sector employees, certain high school teachers, and those working in public hospitals staged protests in France, where inflation surged to 6.2%, seeking an appropriate salary raise owing to rising living costs.[6]

These protests undoubtedly have a butterfly effect and are spreading to other European nations. Protests are also being scheduled in Belgium, Italy, and Hungary in response to rising living costs. The situation is no different in the United Kingdom (UK), which is not a member of the EU. Due to price hikes, energy bills, and food shortages in England, the “Enough is Enough” movement was launched, and the number of supporters quickly grew.[7] The main demands of the movement, which plans to hold demonstrations across the UK, are salary increases that can combat inflation, canceling the October 2022 price hike and returning to the significantly lower pre-April 2022 energy price cap, finding a solution to the food poverty, tenant’s rights protection, making the rich pay their share by raising taxes on the wealthiest and the profits of big businesses. and cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion.[8]

As expected, many rallies across Europe devolve into situations in which some participants resort to violence and rough police intervention. Moreover, thousands of people suffer from sector-based actions. Given that the situation cannot be addressed in the short term, it is reasonable to expect participants to get more violent and authorities to become more punitive in response to the growing demonstrations. This implies that turmoil will reign in Europe, and as the economy deteriorates, European society may be pushed to shift its values.

Another effect of the energy crisis is that people, faced with the rising cost of war, are beginning to declare, “Our Country First.” People are questioning the sanctions placed on Russia as a result of war beyond their borders, as well as the support offered to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This means that the “our freedom and our continent are being threatened” rhetoric from the beginning of the war has lost credibility and criticism of the West’s support for Ukraine has grown. Therefore, the demonstrations that began with financial demands are growing increasingly political by the day.

On the other hand, political parties and groups have begun to exploit the societal response. The prevalent belief that the United States (US) is to blame for the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage has encouraged individuals and organizations that are questioning the support for NATO. For example, the French nationalist and far-right politician Florian Philippot made a statement stressing that his country should leave NATO. David Guiraud, a deputy of the far-left France Unbowed party that is organizing the protests, is also harshly critical of the Paris government.

As seen in the example of France, opposition parties support the protests and try to put pressure on the government and turn the crisis into an opportunity for the next election. Furthermore, simultaneous to the economic challenges created by the energy crisis, societal support for individuals and parties that adhere to nationalist ideology is growing. While the far-right Brothers of Italy Party and the right alliance led by it won the elections in Italy; the National Front in France, the Alternative for Germany in Germany, the Freedom Party of Austria in Austria, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden, the Forum for Democracy in the Netherlands, and Vox in Spain are growing in popularity. Groups that adopt far-right ideology, such as PEGIDA, are also expanding their sphere of influence with each passing day. This situation reinforces the understanding of the nation-state and makes it difficult for European countries to stand together.

In conclusion, energy, which is one of the pillars of the West-Russia conflict, has devolved into a social catastrophe that has begun to become politicized in Europe. While energy costs, unemployment, and inflation rose, citizens who lost trust in decision-makers due to a drop in real income began to pursue their rights on the streets and questioned the support for Ukraine. Therefore, to maintain solidarity with the Kyiv administration despite rising living costs, Western leaders need concrete solutions that will convince their communities. Otherwise, the sanctions may become unsustainable as a result of the energy crisis.

[1] Giovanni Sgaravatti et al., “National Energy Policy Responses to the Energy Crisis”, Bruegel,, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Council Adopts Regulation on Reducing Gas Demand by 15% This Winter”, Council of the European Union,, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

[4]“Real Economy”, European Central Bank, ~3eafaaee1a.en.html, (Date of Accession: 19.10.2022).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Why Are Workers Striking and Protesting Across France?”, Al Jazeera,, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

[7]“Tell Us: Have You Joined the Enough is Enough Campaign?”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

[8] “Demands”, Enouh is Enough, /, (Date of Accession: 18.10.2022).

Gamze BAL
Sakarya Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde lisans eğitimini tamamlamıştır. Akabinde Sakarya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda başladığı yüksek lisans eğitimini “1992 Sonrası Avrupa Birliği’nin Filistin-İsrail Sorununa Yaklaşımı” başlıklı teziyle tamamlamıştır. 2021-2022 yılları arasında İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Avrupa Birliği Anabilim Dalı’nda doktora ders dönemini tamamlamıştır. Halihazırda Bal, Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. İleri derecede İngilizce bilen Bal’ın başlıca çalışma alanları, Avrupa Birliği, güvenlik, etnik çatışmalar ve çatışma çözümü yöntemleridir.