Prospecting the academic grounds on global energies patterns
In the article “Oil policies in 20th-century Spain” from ‘A comparative history of National Oil companies‘, Gabriel Tortella tries to analyze the relationship between economic development and resources, quoting some authors who viewed ‘the Spanish scarcity [in terms of hydrocarbon resources] as a possible explanation for its economic retardation’. He argues that the fact that most other European countries (Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, and France) are similarly poorly endowed makes one doubt that this might be a satisfactory answer to the backwardness riddle, “all the more since one could cite several oil-rich countries such as Venezuela, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria which are far behind Spain in economic modernization”.
In our recent post we highlighted this curious correlation between energy dependency and economic fragility.
We don’t believe the examples raised by G Tortella constitutes efficient counter-veiling arguments. As for the latter, Venezuela has achieved recently higher development through Chavez ‘bolivarism’ and his action has highlighted how the preceding governments were selfishly hoarding the national resources and collaborating with the United States in maintaining a statu quo favorable to this minority and the American government. (We would need further readings to assess this observation more strongly); Nigeria is still under the dominance (technological and political) of foreign oil companies and a corrupted minority when it is not devastated by ethnic conflicts.
For Europe, we will not consider the case of Sweden and Switzerland which should be studied soon. For Italy, and France they differ from Spain by theirs national oil companies counted among the Majors: TOTAL (which as bought ELF in the late 90s- see The French oil Story) and ENI.
Those firms have developed, explored, and diversify both their partnerships and sources, and theirs processes from oil extraction to transportation or petrochemistry. This process has occurred gradually since the 30s while Spain was struggling with political disruption (Spanish War) and Franquism; the comparison case should be developed further to understand why ENI and TOTAL went so successful while the Spanish CAMPSA didn’t make it through very brightly.
Considering France and Italy though they had two (maybe purely hazardous but we doubt this) clear advantages in the after-War when they progressively turn to further oil dependence. They had colonies in Africa. France was relying on Algerian oil til 1971, and had African sources in Gabon and Congo, Italy had an Early African Empire extending from Eritrea to Ethiopia and possessed Tunisia and Libya, two oil-rich regions until the Second World War. We might infer preferential agreements with those countries similar to those tying France and Algeria.
There is no account of such ties for Spain.
Second, if France has been able to develop its civilian nuclear to release its dependance on foreign hydrocarbons in the early 70s, it is very probably because France was among the only American Allies to gain access to the nuclear mastery in the aftermath of WWII. If France is the only European country to have developed so extensively its nuclear civilian program (so that it accounts for 76% of electricity production and places France at the first row worldwide for nuclear energy as part of electricity production and second row for electricity exports [31 TWh, that is 13,2 % of world exports]). See the French Oil Story for further detail on the launching of the French civilian nuclear program.