Energy trade has been an important and largely cooperative field of the EU-Russia relationship for nearly five decades. After the Cold War, liberal theories of international relations, which highlighted the two sides’ interdependence, became entrenched as an explanatory framework for EU-Russia energy relations. From the late 2000s, Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, culminating in the annexation of Crimea in 2014, changed dramatically the political framework of the energy relationship. As a result, realist understandings of Russia’s energy policy (re)gained popularity. However, despite the political crisis, EU-Russia energy trade has continued without major disruptions; indeed, Russian gas exports to Europe have grown after 2014. This article examines the evolution of the EU-Russia energy relationship and argues that it continues to respond to a commercial logic. Russia’s use of an ‘energy weapon’ appears highly unlikely. Meanwhile, eu market and competition rules have strengthened the case for a liberal understanding of the relationship.
Since the creation of the EU, there have been instances in which a restricted number of member states has handled an issue of international security on behalf of the Union. This article argues that, while controversial, these ‘lead groups’ have been a valuable practice. They have been effective in generating intra-EU consensus on specific issues and spurring the EU into action, thereby enabling a European response in the context of conflict management and complex international negotiations. Lead groups are sub-optimal arrangements compensating for the in-built institutional shortcomings of unanimity-based decision-making in EU foreign policy. As such, they do not bring integration further. They have nonetheless shown significant potential in giving initiative and content to EU foreign policy. This is shown through the analysis of two case studies, the Anglo-Franco-German trio involved in Iran’s nuclear issue and the Franco-German duo brokering a truce between Russia and Ukraine.