Guntram B. Wolff is the director of Bruegel, Brussels. Simone Tagliapietra and Georg Zachmann are senior fellows at Bruegel, Brussels.
The European Commission’s plan to focus on Russian oil in its newest sanctions package deal goals to ramp up the stress on Moscow.
Oil is a significant supply of exhausting foreign money for Russia, and because the introduction of economic sanctions, it has turn into much more very important for the nation’s financial system, in addition to an important supply of funding for its battle on Ukraine.
Crucially, nonetheless, the proposed phase-in of an embargo on Russian oil might show counterproductive — at the very least within the quick time period — and there’s a higher possibility.
Undoubtedly, one of many speedy penalties of the announcement of a phased-in embargo shall be a rise in costs; and as Russian oil gross sales to the European Union will proceed for a number of months to come back, this might very nicely improve Russia’s earnings, offering a short-term enhance to its authorities funds because the battle is raging.
Also, whereas the gradual phase-in would give Europe time to develop different oil provides, it will enable Russia the time to safe new export alternatives as nicely. And despite the fact that measures to restrict Russia’s entry to transport are an necessary a part of the EU package deal, they might not be enough to discourage different clients for Russian oil in an energy-hungry world.
Finally, a worth spike following the embargo announcement shall be a drag on the worldwide restoration after the pandemic — which is why United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen known as for the EU to train warning in banning Russian oil.
Even at this late hour, the EU ought to contemplate taking a distinct path — that of a right away punitive tariff on all Russian exports of crude oil, oil merchandise and probably pure fuel.
A tariff can be a versatile instrument to extend or scale back the stress on Russia, relying on the scenario in Ukraine.
It would instantly scale back Russian revenues, whereas nonetheless giving Moscow an incentive to promote to Western patrons. As oil and fuel would proceed to circulate, world costs might nicely fall, lowering Russian earnings additional. Finally, it will additionally give Russia much less purpose to rapidly construct new infrastructure to export fossil fuels to 3rd international locations.
The purpose the tariff possibility has been rejected thus far is due to two misconceptions amongst European policymakers: First, that it will improve costs for shoppers greater than different alternate options, and second, that Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t settle for it, selecting to cease oil and fuel flows instantly as a substitute.
However, the value results of a tariff rely upon the power of sellers and patrons to search out alternate options. The more durable it’s for Russia to develop new export routes, and the better it’s for the EU to search out different oil provides and scale back home demand, the higher Russia’s willingness to pay the tariff shall be.
As infrastructure bottlenecks at present stop any substantial redirection to Asia, Russian oil and fuel exports to Europe are in actual fact fairly inelastic within the quick to medium time period. The EU subsequently has an actual likelihood to make sure tariffs are principally paid by Russia slightly than being handed on to EU shoppers.
With a daring vitality technique, Europe might credibly threaten to chop Russia’s oil and fuel income, whereas minimizing the home financial penalties of a tariff. And to enhance its place, the EU ought to goal to scale back the oil and fuel demand throughout the bloc, whereas growing using all obtainable different vitality sources.
Of course, lowering demand for oil and fuel will contain stopping subsidies and inspiring residents to eat much less. Such measures are politically tough, however they’re now pressing.
In truth, authorities responses to vitality worth will increase have principally been counterproductive, growing the EU’s dependency on Russia slightly than lowering it. Direct energy-price subsidies and tax cuts have propped up oil and fuel consumption. Initially designed to offer a fast repair to what was purported to be a brief drawback, these measures have now ballooned and turn into structural.
European governments must acknowledge that greater vitality costs are usually not the issue however are, in actual fact, a part of the answer, and that reducing the demand for oil and fuel is essential for growing our vitality resilience.
Europe must replenish its fuel storages earlier than subsequent winter to keep away from Putin’s vitality blackmail, and every cubic meter of fuel that isn’t consumed now counts. Governments ought to have the braveness to inform their residents that Europe is within the midst of what probably represents the best vitality disaster in its historical past.
According to the International Energy Agency, easy actions akin to turning down the thermostat or turning up the air-con by simply 1°C, working from dwelling when potential, or lowering cruising pace on motorways by 10 kilometers per hour might save sufficient oil to fill 120 tremendous tankers and sufficient pure fuel to warmth 20 million houses.
Compared to tough and costly supply-side choices like discovering substantial further volumes of LNG, demand-side choices like these could possibly be a major and fast win.
And as for triggering Putin’s retaliation with a tariff, this will likely nicely occur — the latest shut-off of provides to Poland and Bulgaria present that this risk shouldn’t be dismissed. However, the proposed phase-in of an oil embargo would solely improve the chance of such a provide cease even additional — and is clearly Europe’s worse possibility.