To those wondering why Europe ended up with such an embarrassing failure to agree a common policy on the Syrian arms embargo, a small dot on the map could offer some clue. The giant South Pars/North Dome gas field in the Gulf, which is evenly split between Iran and Qatar’s waters. Damascus’ ally Tehran plans to build a pipeline across Syria to reach Mediterranean shores and the rich European market. Doha, the main sponsor of the rebels, has a rival project, which would run through a post-Assad Syria and Turkey to reach the same destination. Tellingly enough, the worsening of the Syrian crisis in early 2011 came only a few months after negotiations on the Iranian project began in late 2010.

France and the United Kingdom, through their national champions GDF and Shell, are major stakeholders in Qatar’s gas industry. Russia has a steel pact with Iran to counter the attempts of Sunni Gulf states and their western allies to bypass its quasi-monopoly on European provisions.

Germany is linked to Russia by the Nord Stream pipeline, lobbied for by former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, while Italy’s ENI is a key partner of Gazprom. To find Paris and London disagreeing with Berlin and Rome over the future of Syria should thus sound less surprising.

The Syrian quagmire is not the only issue where energy has split Europe lately. The debate over environmental and health risks posed by the exploitation of European shale gas reserves has been increasingly hijacked by conflicting national interests, further complicated by meddling by the Russian nuclear industry and uncertainty over future Germany energy policy. This week, the EU’s standing in the commercial dispute with China over solar panels was demolished by disagreement between France and Germany on whether to tax cheap imports from Chinese state-subsidised industries.

After the reversal of traditional “peak oil” theories, the world seems on the verge of a major energy-source revolution. Big investment in shale gas and other non-conventional hydrocarbons could make the United States self-sufficient by 2020, setting them free from oil imports and their huge geopolitical baggage – as their scarce interest for the Syrian crisis is already showing. If recent news from Japan is proven correct, viable exploitation of widespread methane hydrates could bring energy prices down even further – for those who have access.

By then, the EU’s already floundering CO2 reduction scheme will have lost its purpose. Protecting its struggling industries from competitors who pay half the energy bill will prove increasingly hard, especially if it doesn’t find an effective way to conjugate “green” and “cheap”. But above all, energy and politics will become indistinguishable. All talk of a political union will be reduced to nothing more than a laughing stock, as is already happening to the EU’s clumsy shot at common diplomacy. European governments and their energy industry representatives must sit around a table and work out a coordinated vision. Failure to do this will be mourned far beyond the circles of European federalists.