EU must act as 'one voice' on energy
RFE/RL's Turkmen Service talked to Stefan Bouzarovski about the EU's Southern Corridor project and the Nabucco pipeline project to bring Caspian energy resources to Europe bypassing Russia. Dr. Stefan Bouzarovski of the University of Birmingham, a visiting professor at Charles University in Prague, is an expert on the socioeconomic, environmental, and political aspects of energy production, transport, and consumption -- in particular energy equity, security of supply, and energy pipelines.
RFE/RL: Developments in recent years have shown that using energy as a tool, Russia is increasingly able to influence EU decision-making, primarily through "divide and rule" tactics. The European Union moved to curb its heavy dependence on Russian gas on May 8 by signing a declaration to smooth the way for more natural-gas imports from the Caspian region. However, Central Asian countries, including Caspian country Turkmenistan, failed to sign the document while EU officials say negotiations with Turkmenistan are ongoing and progressing well. On account of this, experts seem divided on realizability of EU's Southern Corridor project, which includes the Nabucco pipeline. How do you see the future of this project?
Stefan Bouzarovski: I have to admit to being a little skeptical about the Nabucco project. It has been on the drawing board for a very long time and hasn't really taken off.
The project has two major barriers to overcome: a commercial and a supply one. In other words, it is unclear who will pay for it, and whether there will be enough gas for its supply. The source areas and transit routes of the pipeline are also mired in a set of very complex geopolitical and technical circumstances, because the supply from Turkmenistan (and possibly Kazakhstan) is unclear, and the possibility of getting gas from Iraq, Iran or other Middle Eastern countries has a whole host of additional difficulties associated with it. Using Turkey as a transit route, opens up, inter alia, the uncomfortable question of delayed EU accession for that country.
I am all for the diversification of Europe's piped gas supply through new overland routes, but Nabucco has to become more than just a top-down political project in order to be successful. Hopefully this will happen (and perhaps is already happening) without the need for too much government support.
RFE/RL: Russia is devising plans to avoid unfriendly transit countries. The Nord Stream and South Stream pipelines under the Baltic and the Black Sea are said to be part of this strategy. The policy would apparently help Moscow keep traditional transit countries under pressure, as supplies to those states could be cut without affecting deliveries to the West. While Russian gas giant Gazprom is drawing up long-term plans to strengthen its grip on Europe with pipeline projects backed by the Kremlin, what do you think the EU's response strategies should be?
Bouzarovski: I am not sure I agree that the sole purpose of Nord Stream or South Stream is to create the possibility for Russia to selectively cut supplies to "undesirable" EU member states, as there are a host of additional economic and technical considerations that make these routes more attractive for Gazprom.
And after all, overland gas flows are like love or war: it takes two to make them work. Any politically motivated interruption of gas supplies would immediately decrease Russia's credibility in Western European countries as well, forcing them to look for energy elsewhere.
Anyway, whatever Gazprom's intentions or interests may be, one thing is clear: the EU doesn't have a common energy policy. The EU has to act as one actor and one voice at the international stage, through policies backed by a common, strong, institutional framework within the EU itself.
As a continent, we also need to look into changing our energy demand patterns in order to decrease our import dependence and address climate-change issues. We keep thinking about energy security as a large international issue, but at the end it boils down to the energy security of individuals and local communities, and very little is being done in terms of devolving energy decision-making power to that level of governance.
EU Energy Cooperation
RFE/RL: Some expect that gas-rich Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries may be tempted to choose the Russian option, especially since human rights groups are urging the EU to seize the opportunity to apply pressure on the Turkmen government to improve its record in this area. What policy do you think the EU should follow in this case to balance its focus on energy security and human rights issues?
Bouzarovski: Well, the answer to this is brief. I cannot see any rationale or justification for a Western democratic government or public to overlook human rights abuses in a Central Asian country in the name of supposed energy-security concerns.
RFE/RL: EU dependence on Russian gas does not appear to be quite so risky, unless figures for individual countries are considered. While Spain does not import any Russian gas at all, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland receive 100 percent of their gas from Russia. Accordingly, there seems to be lack of unity among EU countries on the energy-security strategies. What can help the EU to achieve intergovernmental solidarity among its member states in this situation?
Bouzarovski: The figures you quote are not entirely accurate and there as some other countries in the EU that are de facto more dependent on Russia for their gas supplies than the ones you listed, as evidenced, for example, by the severity of the January gas crisis in countries like Slovakia and Bulgaria, among others.
Paradoxically, I think it was thanks to that particular gas crisis that public opinion and politicians in some of the "older" EU states started to gradually become more aware of the deep extent to which we are politically, economically, and socially connected in this little continent of ours. Even though each state was left to fend for itself during the crisis, and in the end it seemed to be limited to countries that seem peripheral and not particularly influential within the EU, I don't think it will be so easy to provide containment if an infrastructural collapse like this happens in the future.
Not only does the geography of the continent force us to cooperate in political terms, but we are also inclined to develop stronger infrastructural linkages as well. If we had more LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals, better transcontinental energy-supply connections, or a wider choice of alternative energy sources, the January gas crisis might have been avoided altogether across Europe.
RFE/RL: To what degree can the recent Eastern Partnership program (EPP) help the EU to secure its energy supplies?
Bouzarovski: The EPP can potentially provide a good institutional framework for developing closer political, social, and economic links with states at the EU's eastern border. In order to be more successful in the energy domain, however, it has to involve Russia in a more concerted way. Many of the countries in the EPP are themselves very strongly linked to Russia in energy and political terms.
I would also recommend the further strengthening of, and reliance on, formal institutional instruments for EU-Russia cooperation, like the Energy Charter treaty and the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue.
RFE/RL: Last week, Russia released a national security report that says battles over energy may lead to military conflicts. While there Russia has warned Europe to stay out of its so-called sphere of influence, do you think it might cause the EU to back away from attempts to strengthen its ties with potential Nabucco supplier Turkmenistan? Why or why not?
Bouzarovski: It is difficult for me to answer this question, as I am not an expert on Central Asian geopolitical issues and cannot speak about them with any confidence or certainty. I can only say that am aware that the international relations and politics of energy supply linked to places like Turkmenistan are highly complex, and that the vast majority of power games and horse trading take place far from the public eye. I don't think that one report or political statement can change that very easily.
RFE/RL: Is it reasonable to think of new energy solutions that the West might seek to find for its industries in the near future that will lead to a gradual drop in oil and gas prices beyond global crisis effects?
Bouzarovski: I am glad you asked this question, as I believe that energy-security concerns or oil- and gas-price volatility are just symptoms of a much wider problem: the intimate link between the political economy of capitalist development and large-scale hydrocarbon exploitation.
Until we decouple this link and move towards more environmentally and socially sustainable energy policies, everything we do will be like putting a plaster on a gaping wound. In the EU, we need a much more aggressive promotion of locally sourced renewable energy in order to move closer to this goal, among other policies.
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.