Europeans are learning the hard way the real cost of relying on conflict oil. Appalled, as we all are, at Iran's determination to threaten the world with war and nuclear weapons, they want to stop importing Iranian oil -- but they can't. Not for quite a while. An EU ban on Iranian imports will have to be phased in over the next several months, so dependent are Europeans on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's crude exports.
And so, last week, the Iranians turned the tables: Tehran warned it might just cut off exports to France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Netherlands, and Spain, leaving them high and dry if those countries don't extend their long-term oil contracts. The threat alone was enough to send oil prices soaring.
Ahmadinejad has ignored all efforts to stop his illegal nuclear program for a long time. It was more than six years ago that he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and Tehran had been caught deceiving the International Atomic Energy Agency about its nuclear ambitions long before that. Yet, all along, Europe has kept buying Iranian oil (The EU says it imported about 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude oil in the third quarter of 2011), sending money to Ahmadinejad's regime, which helps him get to the dangerous place where he is today: Last week, the Iranian president claimed a new level of "achievement" in his illegal nuclear program, including tripling the country's ability to enrich uranium. "Our nuclear path will continue," he taunted. While Europe spends months trying to disentangle itself from its Iranian oil habit, Tehran will keep busily building its nukes.
Hopefully this mess will at least be on top of the mind of European Union delegates expected to gather this week to vote on a law aimed at discouraging Canadian oil imports. Now that the dangers of inadvertently propping up reckless and rogue dictatorships have become painfully clear, Europeans must wise up to the severe harm they'll do themselves, and the world, by leading the charge to punish secure, peaceful, and ethically produced Canadian crude.
The proposed law, which would slap punitive tariffs on any imports from the oil sands, is based on a false premise anyway. Looking to pose as eco-friendly, EU commissioners saw a way to score easy points by targeting environmentalists' favourite scapegoat: Canada. The fact that Europe doesn't actually import any Canadian oil made it a painless decision. At least for them. It would, however, hurt us.
The implication that our oil is especially objectionable would tarnish Canada's reputation worldwide and potentially lead other markets to follow Europe's lead in penalizing our exports. Our federal Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver has rightly pinpointed the proposal as "grandstanding."
It is, Oliver said last week, "an attempt to single out and discriminate against our oil sands, which don't have any economic relevance to them at this point."
The Europeans would, however, continue importing oil from Venezuela, Iraq, and Nigeria: oil with a carbon footprint that is the same, if not worse, than that of oil from Canada's oil sands, and from countries with far worse environmental records and protections generally.
When they first drafted the directive last year, the Europeans seemed willing to sacrifice the ethics of peace and human rights to strike a fashionable anti-oil sands posture. They showed the world that they seemed to care more about their popularity with certain eco-activists than about the fact that they were underwriting brutal, belligerent, rights-abusing regimes from Tehran to Caracas.
Even now, as a way to wean themselves off of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conflict oil, the Europeans are turning to Saudi Arabia to fill the gap, one of the worst countries when it comes to human rights, particularly for women, gays, and minorities.
Having made the mistake of linking itself to Iran, you would hope that Europe would be smarter than to just trade its dependency on one OPEC conflict oil supplier for an increased reliance on another. There is, simply, no such thing as secure and predictable oil from the Persian Gulf: The Iranians have already responded to economic sanctions with threats to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, through which Saudi Arabia's oil exports travel, too. It takes fleets of heavily armed, ready-for-battle warships from North America and Europe to keep Saudi crude flowing.
The last thing that Europe, or any market, should be doing -- especially right now -- is working to harm Canada's oil sands. Our country, with the third largest deposit of proven reserves on the planet, finally offers countries a secure and responsible alternative to volatile OPEC oil imports that fund misery, strife, and bloodshed.
Rather than voting on whether to punish Canadian oil, they should be doing their best to figure out how they can start finally moving off OPEC's conflict oil and switching to Canada's ethical oil instead.
Follow Kathryn Marshall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Lawsome_