chapter  10
17 Pages

Energy: A reinforced obstacle to democratization?


Between 2001 and the summer of 2008, oil prices increased from around $20 to nearly $150 a barrel. While prices then fell back as a result of the international financial crisis, demand for energy is still expected to grow exponentially, and many predict that oil and gas reserves are on the point of peaking. Western dependence on imported supplies is set to increase. It is estimated that the European Union’s (EU) reliance on imported energy supplies will rise from 50 to 70 per cent of energy requirements and the US’s dependence to 60 per cent by 2025 (Cordesman and Al-Rodhan 2006: 18). It is estimated that in 2035 global energy consumption will be double that of 2005, with fast-developing economies such as those of China and India hungry for ever-increasing supplies of oil and gas. Non-democratic producer states have enjoyed the succour of increased revenues and greater international leverage. Beyond short-term fluctuations in oil prices, these regimes are widely seen as strongly placed to consolidate their influence over the medium term. This new energy panorama raises many questions. The focus in this chapter

is on one specific issue, namely its impact on democracy. Of the diverse factors affecting democracy’s fortunes, energy would appear to present one of the most open-and-shut cases. As oil and democracy appear never to have mixed well, the new context is widely seen as a major factor quite unequivocally loading the dice even more strongly against democracy. Evidence abounds that the new energy panorama has worked and is working clearly to democracy’s disadvantage. But the chapter digs a little deeper and asks whether the equation is quite as simple, quite as black-and-white as this. Notwithstanding the negative trends associated with the changes to international energy markets, ‘the return of oil’ to international geopolitics has also served as a catalyst for more far-reaching debates over democratization and governance reform. Full-scale democratic reform may be increasingly ‘blocked by oil’ but pressure for some degree of governance reform has itself intensified in response to that same autocratic management of energy resources.