Russia’s reduction of natural gas supplies has caused a serious energy crisis across Europe. The rapid decline in the purchasing power of people in many European countries has led to protests on the continent of an unprecedented scale for many years.
The European Union has spent 2022 on many trials, from tensions with Russia to energy, and from the economy to security and migration.
The year 2022 began with the French Presidency of the European Union. After 14 years, France’s agenda included increasing the EU’s autonomy in the areas of security and defense, better protection of the EU’s external borders, and preventive and urgent measures regarding irregular migration and return.
In defining these priorities, with the withdrawal of the United States of America and then NATO from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 and the crisis of the American University in Kosovo that emerged with the withdrawal of France in the submarine agreement between the United States and England in the middle of the year, illegal immigrants from the Belarusian administration were sent to the external borders to the European Union, and the threat was effective.
However, by the end of 2021, the Russian military fortification on the Ukrainian border gradually increased tension with this country, prompting the European Union to shift its focus to relations with Russia in 2022, with different dimensions.
The EU has repeatedly said that if Russia attacks Ukraine, it will “pay a heavy price” and economic and political sanctions will be decided within days.
With the Russian army’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, tensions reached a peak, and the European Union, which has been grappling with the effects of Covid-19 for the past two years, opened the way for new challenges, especially in the fields of economy and energy.
Energy crisis and inflation
European Union countries experienced energy and inflation crises together in 2022. European countries, which depend on foreign energy, faced a rapid rise in natural gas and electricity prices, especially since the first months of 2022.
Inflation in European countries, which were powerless in the face of rising energy prices, also entered an upward trend, and thus inflation in Europe exceeded the 2% target of the European Central Bank.
Inflation in the European Union and Eurozone broke a record in the first month of the year, while the increase in inflation accelerated with the Russian-Ukrainian war. The increase in energy prices is beginning to be reflected in other products.
The European Union, which supplies a large amount of food from Russia and Ukraine in addition to energy, could not stop the rise in prices of basic products such as flour and oil, and the rise in energy and food prices caused inflation to peak in Europe.
Renewing its peak almost every month throughout the year, inflation reached 11.5% in the EU and 10.6% in the eurozone in November, breaking new records. Thus, inflation in the eurozone has reached the highest levels measured in the last 25 years for which the European Union has collected data, while inflation in some European countries has broken records in the past 50 years.
The protests began
While the rapid increase in inflation rates negatively affected the growth and purchasing power of citizens, especially inflation in food and energy products affected the Europeans.
As this situation continued throughout the year, the purchasing power of workers in many European countries declined rapidly, causing protests of an unprecedented scale for many years.
Citizens demanded an immediate increase in wages, which often dissolved in the face of inflation, and the intervention of excessively high gas and electricity prices.
9 penalty packs
In the aftermath of the war that began in February, the European Union imposed a number of economic sanctions targeting Russia. In 2022, the European Union has implemented a total of 9 different sanctions packages against Russia.
While energy products were included in the packages, the result created a problem for Europe as it supplied 45 percent of its coal, 40 percent of its natural gas and 25 percent of its oil from pre-war Russia.
In response to the EU sanctions, Russia dramatically reduced the flow of natural gas to Europe, resulting in an 80% reduction in natural gas compared to what it was before the war. Energy costs have risen in European countries as supply has shrunk.
Gas prices in Europe have risen from 16 euros per megawatt-hour at the beginning of 2021 to 65 euros in early January. Gas prices, which broke a record last August, peak at 346 euros, at 105 euros. A serious drop in gas prices is not expected in the near future.
Increase in electricity prices
And while the rise in natural gas prices was also reflected in electricity prices, the price of megawatt-hours of electricity in European countries, which was about 50 euros at the beginning of last year, rose to 200 euros at the beginning of this year. The increase accelerated with the war and exceeded €700 levels in August. Although this figure decreased slightly in the last months of the year, the energy bills of citizens increased several times.
While trying to take various measures against the energy crisis, the European Union countries decided to reduce their gas consumption by 15%, to fill underground gas tanks, reduce temperatures in buildings, and save energy by turning off the lights.
Many EU countries have also implemented various measures such as lowering taxes on energy products, reducing prices and paying low incomes.
Coal and nuclear are back
European countries, which for many years tended to environmental transition policies directed against climate change rather than securing energy supplies, were forced to change their stance this year, and began operating previously closed coal mines and power plants at affordable prices. This led to an increase in the share of coal in the production of electricity in European countries.
The energy crisis has also caused changes in plans and programs to exit nuclear energy. After the leak at the Fukushima power plant in 2011, European countries, which began to worry about the safety of nuclear power plants and shut down their power plants, took a step back in this regard.
Due to the energy crisis, many European countries have begun to extend the operating period of their nuclear power plants and prepare new investment plans for nuclear energy.
The wheels of industry have slowed
The rapid rise in natural gas and electricity prices plunged European heavy industry into an unprecedented crisis. Factories in vital sectors such as iron and steel, fertilizers, aluminum, zinc and glass, which faced high bills, faced production difficulties due to high energy costs and uncertainty.
Faced with energy costs ten times higher than a year ago, factories have revised production cuts, outages and long-term plans.
Companies in the sectors are beginning to direct their production to countries outside Europe, where they can provide energy at affordable prices.
The outlook for the economy has deteriorated
Problems in the economy were also reflected in surveys conducted with citizens of European Union countries.
In the Eurobarometer survey, which is conducted regularly in European countries, the rate of those who think their country’s economy is bad was 64%, and the rate of those who think the EU’s economy is bad was 51%.
Surveys reveal that the main concerns of Europeans are rising prices, inflation, rising costs of living and energy.
Defense and security are at the top of the agenda
With the return of war to the European continent after nearly 80 years, the current security concerns of the European Union have also increased, and the European Union has often stressed the importance of deepening cooperation with the United States and NATO, while working to build autonomy.
On March 24-25, Brussels, the capital of the European Union, hosted the EU leaders summit, the NATO summit and the G7 summit, with the participation of US President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
EU leaders have adopted the “Strategic Compass” as a practical guide, which includes the creation of a “rapid deployment force” made up of land, air and sea units that can number up to 5,000 people at the summit and conduct regular exercises.
The accession process of EU members Sweden and Finland to NATO has also left its mark on discussions shaping the future of EU security in 2022.
Many members of the European Union supported the accession of these two countries, which have had close relations with NATO for years.
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said in a statement on December 8 that the war in Ukraine is a “monstrous wake-up call” for the EU, and that the EU does not have the capabilities it needs to defend itself.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has created a new migration problem. About 8 million people, mostly women and children, have immigrated to the countries of the European Union.
Thanks to the temporary protection status, which was activated for the first time in the history of the European Union, Ukrainians were able to obtain residence and work permits in EU countries, and benefited from education and health services.
Ukrainians also received benefits such as social welfare assistance, housing assistance, and livelihood assistance. Given that those fleeing armed conflicts in places such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or Africa can enter the EU by bypassing practices such as “pushback”, some countries are not even given shelter and only 40 percent are accepted, the EU is a target Criticism of the treatment of Ukrainians with distinction, and it happened.
Towards the end of the year, proposals for permanent solutions to the growing irregular migration crisis, which erupted after the Ocean Viking ship, which rescued migrants in the Mediterranean, sparked a crisis between Italy and France, occupied the EU agenda.
New candidate countries have been added
While Ukraine expressed its desire to join the European Union from the first day of the war, the European Union did not give a signal for a long time due to differences of opinion among the member states.
While Ukraine applied for membership on February 28, and Moldova and Georgia days later, the European Council decided to grant Ukraine and Moldova “candidate country” status on June 23. At the EU leaders’ summit on December 15, Bosnia and Herzegovina was granted candidacy status. On the same day, Kosovo officially applied for membership.
The rise of the far right
While elections will be held in many EU countries in 2022, votes for far-right candidates have increased in France, Sweden and Italy.
In France, the far-right Marine Le Pen won 41.5 percent of the vote, in Sweden the far-right Swedish Democrats became the country’s second-largest party, and Georges Meloni took power in Italy. Attention.
Investigating corruption linked to the European Parliament
The European Union has been shaken by the detention of Eva Kaili, a Greek lawmaker and vice-president of the European Parliament, in an investigation into corruption, bribery and money laundering by the Belgian authorities on December 9.
The investigation, in which 3 more people were arrested and 1.5 million euros in cash seized, has called trust in EU institutions into question.
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