Europe and Its Slippery Energy Slope

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Europe, at present the world’s largest market and largest economic bloc, is in decline, and living standards are in danger. That was the sober message at an energy conference here, delivered by a battery of speakers from across eastern Europe.

The narrative is that energy is what is dragging Europe down — not low birthrates and pervasive social-safety networks, but increasing dependence on expensive energy imports and hopelessly tangled markets.

Although delegates gathered to discuss the particular problems of eastern Europe, many had comments about the energy dependence across Europe: its labyrinthine regulations in nearly all 28 countries, its inability to form capital for large projects like nuclear, and governments intruding into the market.

The result is a patchwork of contradictions, counterproductive regulations, political fiats, and multiple objectives that leave Europeans paying more for energy than they need to and failing to develop indigenous sources, such as their own shale gas deposits in Ukraine and Poland. It also leaves countries dependent on capricious and expensive gas from Russia, unsure of whether they can build needed electric generating plants in the future and poorly interconnected, sometimes by both gas pipelines and electric lines.

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