Dependent EU seeks stronger energy ties
BRUSSELS, Nov 20: An increasingly dependent European Union will seek to rebalance its energy relationship with Russia and boost ties with other key suppliers at a series of major meetings this week.
The 25-nation bloc hopes to lay the foundations for a balanced energy relationship with Moscow when President Vladimir Putin attends an EU-Russia summit in Helsinki on Friday, due to launch negotiations on a new strategic partnership agreement.
But Brussels and Moscow must first overcome Polish resistance to a negotiating mandate for the pact by settling a dispute over a Russian ban on imports of Polish meat.
EU president Finland and the executive European Commission are trying to break the deadlock and Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said progress was being made.
In the other big energy event, the European Commission will host a two-day conference starting tomorrow of representatives of major oil and gas suppliers to discuss its ambitions to build a diversified common European energy policy.
The EU gets 50 per cent of its energy from third countries and that dependency is projected to grow to 70 per cent by 2020.
The conference on external energy security is part of the EU executive's drive to coordinate the bloc's energy supplies and gain more say over negotiations with third countries.
''It is in all our interest that we maximise coordination in the external area and speak with one voice,'' External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement.
''As a Union, we are a major customer for suppliers and as consumers we have considerable purchasing power. We should ...
work together to get the best deal and the strongest energy security for all Europeans.'' DOUBLE STANDARDS? How far major powers such as Germany, Britain and Italy are prepared to cede power to Brussels to negotiate with energy suppliers, and accept binding targets for energy efficiency and use of renewable fuels, remains to be seen.
An EU summit next March will determine how far member states are willing to pool their energy policies.
Russia, Norway and EU candidate Turkey are reticent about EU efforts to export principles of competition and reciprocity to neighbouring countries.
Despite strong EU pressure, Moscow is refusing to ratify a European Energy Charter Treaty which would force it to break up Gazprom's monopoly of gas supplies and transit, opening its pipelines to third party traffic.
Russian EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov pointed out that other major suppliers including Norway have also declined to ratify the treaty.
''I haven't seen any EU pressure on Norway to ratify ... I wouldn't like to see it as a case of double standards,'' he said.
Russia, for its part, is demanding greater freedom for its giant energy companies to invest in downstream firms in the EU.
Notwithstanding Russian reluctance, Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs will try to use the conference to project the EU's internal market regulation beyond its boards.
''The European Union and its external partners need to work together for the extension of our energy market beyond the EU borders,'' he said.