I promised to keep you au courant with the latest news on energy strategy from the European Parliament, brought to me by Bill Newton Dunn, British Liberal Democrat MEP, following last week’s plenary session in Strasbourg. So here you go:
As expected, energy policy was one of the main topics on the agenda and the MEPs debated on increasing the EU’s future security of supply by establishing and maintaining minimum stocks of the most important petroleum products. The EP also encouraged energy security by reorganising the European internal energy market (e.g. by European transmission system operator and the creation of a single European gas grid) and further developing of the external energy relations (e.g. cooperation with the countries of the Mediterranean region, North Africa and Middle East). The long-term goal is generating alternative forms of energy, which is tightly related to the EU’s integrated policy on climate change.
So, where is Russia in this picture, Mr Dunn?
We won’t be able to do enough to get away from Russia entirely. The thing about Russia is – it’s our neighbour, therefore the EU needs to be in good relations with Russia. Russia’s problem is that it used to be a super power but suddenly with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, everybody who was in the Soviet Union escaped as far as they could. Many countries joined the EU, some of them are still waiting to join – that left Russia in great pain. I think Mr Putin’s trying to resurrect Russia’s pride… and one weapon is oil and gas, and other mineral reserves. But they are our neighbour, we need their supply, they need customers – we are bound together and therefore we have to find a good relationship. And if we can find a good relationship (I can assure you that the Parliament and the Commission are very concerned about this and there are a lot of discussions how to do it), then we can form a very good partnership and then we won’t have to fear that Gazprom would suddenly say “sorry it’s the coldest day of winter, we’re turning off the gas today” – which is brutal, but quite a strong weapon, and this is not how a good neighbour behave.
Which brings us back to the question so clearly elaborated by Bronwen Maddox, Chief Foreign Commentator of The Times: Is the gas crisis after all a Putin masterclass in how to lose friends and alienate neighbours?
The above might be valid for some neighbours, but one of the old comrade-countries stood out.
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov last week met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev to discuss the future of the gas supply agreement between the two countries and a compensation for gas Bulgaria failed to obtain from Russia during the supply crisis in January.
Oddly enough, while it became clear that any compensation is out of the question, Parvanov launched the Year of Bulgaria in Russia during his trip. Apparently old habits (and old friendships) die hard.
In the end, the only thing agreed upon was a removal of the intermediary Overgas Inc from the supply chain, following the example set by the removal of RosUkrEnergo from Russia - Ukraine. After all, a small victory is better than nothing, one might say.
A quick reminder: Bulgaria was the country affected the most by the gas crisis as all its supplies come from Russia via a pipeline crossing Ukraine and the country has no access to alternative pipeline routes. Bulgaria’s state gas monopoly Bulgargaz, estimated its direct losses from undelivered Russian gas in January at €15.5 million.