EU increasingly dependent on fossil fuel imports

Energy consumption in the European Union (EU) is below its 1990 level, but EU dependency on fossil fuel imports is on the rise, the EU’s statistical arm Eurostat announced last week.

François-Xavier Chevallerau | March 2, 2017

In 2015, gross inland energy consumption, which reflects the energy quantities necessary to satisfy all inland consumption, amounted in the EU to 1,626 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe), below its 1990 level (-2.5%) and down by 11.6% compared to its peak of almost 1,840 Mtoe in 2006.

Accounting for nearly three-quarters of EU consumption of energy in 2015, fossil fuels continued to represent by far the main source of energy, although their weight has constantly decreased over the past decades, from 83% in 1990 to 73% in 2015. However, over this period, EU dependency on imports of fossils fuels has increased, with 73% imported in 2015 compared with just over half (53%) in 1990. In other words, while in 1990 one tonne of fossil fuels was imported for each tonne produced in the EU, by 2015 three tonnes were imported for each tonne produced.


Overall, the energy dependency of the European Union (EU) stood in 2015 at 54.1%, meaning that the EU needed to import slightly over half of the energy it consumed. Energy dependency in the EU was higher in 2015 than in 1990, but still slightly lower than its highest point recorded in 2008. The evolution of EU energy dependency has not been constant between 1990 and 2015. However, it has continuously stood above 50% since 2004.

With 314 Mtoe (or 19% of total energy consumption in the EU), Germany remained in 2015 the main user of energy in the EU, ahead of France (253 Mtoe, or 16%), the United Kingdom (191 Mtoe, or 12%), Italy (156 Mtoe, or 10%), Spain (121 Mtoe, or 7%) and Poland (95 Mtoe or 6%). Compared with 1990, the largest decreases in energy consumption in 2015 were recorded in the three EU Baltic States – Lithuania (-57%), Latvia (-45%) and Estonia (-37%) – as well as in Romania (-44%) and Bulgaria (-33%). In contrast, the highest increases were registered in Cyprus (+41%), Ireland (+38%), Spain (+35%) and Austria (+33%).

In every EU Member State, the share of fossil fuels in energy consumption decreased over the period 1990-2015, most notably in Denmark (from 91% in 1990 to 69% in 2015), Latvia (from 83% to 61%) and Romania (from 96% to 74%). However, the large majority of Member States remains highly reliant on fossil fuels for their energy consumption. In 2015, fossil fuels made up less than half of the energy consumption in only three Member States: Sweden (30%), Finland (46%) and France (49%).

Most of the EU Member States have seen their dependency on fossil fuel imports increase between 1990 and 2015. This was notably the case for the United Kingdom (from a dependency rate of 2% in 1990 to 43% in 2015), the Netherlands (from 22% to 56%), Poland (from 1% to 32%) and the Czech Republic (from 17% to 46%). In 2015, the Member State by far the least dependent on fossil fuel imports was Denmark (4%), followed by Estonia (17%), Romania (25%) and Poland (32%).

European dependency on foreign imports is rising in particular in the oil sector. A study on oil dependency in the EU, conducted by Cambridge Econometrics for ‘Transport and Environment’ and published in July 2016, shows that European dependence on oil imports has grown from 76% in 2000 to over 88% in 2014. Although domestic energy demand has fallen in recent years, crude oil extraction in the EU has indeed fallen at a faster rate, leading to an increased dependency imported oil. The transport sector accounts for two-thirds of the EU’s final demand for oil and petroleum products.


The dependency of the EU on energy imports, particularly of oil and gas, forms the backdrop for policy concerns relating to the security of its energy supplies. Russia is the EU’s largest supplier of both oil and natural gas. It accounts for about 30% of the EU’s crude oil imports and almost 40% of its natural gas imports. Europe has tried to wean itself from Russian natural gas ever since supplies from its eastern neighbor dropped during freezing weather in 2009. Almost a decade later, however, the bloc has never been more dependent. Russia is expected to remain the biggest source of gas supply to the EU for at least two more decades, according to current estimates.

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