Qatar, an indispensable and embarrassing ally of the European Union

It’s a thinly veiled threat. The European Parliament’s decision to suspend all the access documents of Qatari representatives within it could have “a negative effect on security cooperation, as well as ongoing discussions on global energy scarcity and security”, has just warned the emirate. Suspected of being involved in the ongoing corruption scandal, Qatar counter-attacks… and threatens to reduce its gas supplies.

► Is Qatar an essential gas supplier for Europeans?

The war in Ukraine has forced the European Union to urgently review its gas strategy. With the very sharp reduction in Russian deliveries, the Europeans have been forced to turn to other trading partners: Qatar is one of them, even if it still only supplies 5% of the gas consumed in Europe.

The small emirate is a gas heavyweight. Fourth largest producer in the world, leading exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), it has the third largest reserves in the world behind Russia and Iran. “Along with the United States, it is the only one able to increase its export capacities in the next two or three years”, says an industry expert.

The emirate intends to increase its production by 60% by 2027: enough to compensate for half of the Russian gas consumed in Europe before the war… It is difficult for Europeans to do without it. “If we hadn’t been angry with Russia, we might have been angry with Qatar. But today that is no longer possible. abruptly summarizes Thierry Bros, professor at Sciences Po Paris.

At the end of November, Germany signed an agreement with the emirate for the supply of 2.7 billion cubic meters of gas per year from 2026, over fifteen years. This represents about 3% of the country’s needs. In 2025, Qatar could become Spain’s leading gas supplier, overtaking Algeria. Italy is also betting on Qatari gas to replace Russian gas.

In recent months, Doha has also found its interest in this rapprochement with the Europeans: it allows it to geographically rebalance its portfolio, three-quarters oriented towards Asia. With the new capacities that will be commissioned, he wants to increase Europe’s share from 25% to 40%, or even 50%.

Doha therefore also needs to retain its European customers and cannot afford to appear as an unreliable supplier. In addition, the European Union has just set up a purchase price blocking mechanism in an attempt to regain control of a customer/supplier relationship that is a little too unequal in the current period. If the mechanism works, it can become a protection tool in periods when the market is racing, particularly due to threats of supply cuts from suppliers.

► Can the EU do without Qatar’s geostrategic support?

Qatar – with less than 3 million inhabitants, 80% of whom are of foreign origin –, lost at the end of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the Persian Gulf, has hardly any other cards in its game than gas. . And yet, “in a few years, he has acquired a deserved reputation as a useful intermediary, as in the negotiations between the Taliban and the Trump administration with the signing of the Doha agreements in February 2020”, recalls Jonathan Piron, researcher, specialist in Qatar (1).

Also present as a mediator in the Iranian nuclear crisis (a country with which it shares the North Dome gas field), “he demonstrated his diplomatic centrality and had a pivotal role in the release and evacuation of thousands of European and Western nationals from Afghanistan (August 2021)”, adds Nabil Ennasri, doctor in political science (2).

This State uses its address book to obtain, for example, the release of hostages on behalf of Western countries. “But it does not have the means to change behavior over time, as in Syria or Libya”, continues Jonathan Piron. And his involvement in the Iranian nuclear issue has earned him the enmity of Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, to the point of being imposed an economic blockade which fortunately ended last year.

“Apart from his checkbook diplomacy and gas, he does not really have the means for his policy”, believes Jonathan Piron, for whom Qatar remains a weak diplomatic power which wants to play a certain role, by using the “soft power” of sport to project itself and gain legitimacy on the international scene.

► Can Qatar afford a break with Europe?

The emirate was upset by the opening of an investigation in Brussels targeting Greek MEP Eva Kaili, suspected of having been paid by Qatar to defend the interests of the country which hosted the World Cup. “Qatar’s reaction and threats towards Europe are surprising to say the least because it is a decision of the Belgian justice that they must respect in the name of the independence of justice”notes Nabil Ennasri.

This strong reaction also questions the researcher Jonathan Piron “Are the threats addressed to Europe brandished to defend the dignity and honor of Qatar or is it to warn that the gas contracts with Europe, which have come to an end, could be awarded to other others ? »

Specialists hardly believe in a break in economic or diplomatic relations. “Doha urgently needs to find support from the major powers, and particularly from Europe, point first. The EU is for him a strategic ally and a strong long-term partner”… In contrast to the Middle East, a region by nature volatile and conflictual.

In addition, a significant part of its armament is of European manufacture: Italian for the navy, French for the army and the aviation, and English for the combat planes..

Doesn’t “Qatargate” risk permanently damaging the image of the emirate? In a way, the damage had already been done to Western public opinion with the investigations and denunciations of human rights organizations on the deplorable working conditions of foreign workers, but also on the exorbitant carbon footprint of the Cup of the world. “European and Western opinions, according to Nabil Ennasri, keep Qatar the image of an intrusive state, which by the force of these gaso-dollars hopes to force the friendship of a certain number of networks to advance its interests. »

If his role were confirmed in the ongoing scandal in Parliament, the case would only reinforce this conviction. Because he “only has gas and financial means that allow him to buy PSG and invest in other countries in Europe and Africa”, according to Jonathan Piron’s formula, he will have to restore his image to achieve his great ambitions.


Qataris, rich at birth thanks to gas

Qatar has 13% of the world’s natural gas reserves, in 3rd position behind Russia and Iran.

Hydrocarbons represent 86% of the value of the country’s exports. Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign fund of the Gulf emirate, would have 461 billion dollars (about 434 billion euros) in assets in 2022.

Qatar’s gross domestic product per capita was $93,521 (€87,845) in 2021, which places the emirate in 4th place worldwide.


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