Sefcovic debriefs following landmark US visit

Matt Armstrong, director of government relations for Baker Hughes Incorporated, on the left, and Maroš Šefčovič, at the US Chamber of Commerce. Washington, 8 March. [European Commission]

Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič told the Brussels press yesterday (13 March) about his visit to the US last week (6-9 March), which was also one of the first meetings of the EU executive with the new administration of Donald Trump.

Šefčovič was not the first Commissioner to visit the United States following Trump’s election. EU’ foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and the Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos already visited Washington. From the US, the highest level visit to Brussels so far was made by Vice President Mike Pence.

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“We will need many more meetings like this to understand each other better, to look for the best way how we can cooperate,” Šefčovič said.

He stressed that the new American government was focusing on economic growth and job creation, which he said was “good, because we do the same in the EU”.

The Commission vice-president said that in all his meetings and public appearances, he highlighted how important EU-US relations had become.

Šefčovič said he emphasised the fact that 7 million jobs in the US were generated by EU companies; and that 2.6 million additional jobs in America depend on exports of US companies to EU countries. He added that the EU was the most profitable sales region for the US and that 80% of the direct foreign investment in the US comes from Europe.

Commercial sales per year represent a “staggering” $5.5 trillion, of which US companies generated more than the half it, namely $3 trillion”, he said.

The second issue Šefčovič raised is energy security, informing the US government how the EU was proceeding with the diversification of supplies. He said he explored the prospects for LNG imports from the United States, and also discussed the situation in Ukraine – the reform process and its need for continued assistance.

Šefčovič said that the American requirement for special permits to export LNG didn’t make any sense

Finally, the way the EU was dealing with the transition to clean energy in implementing the Paris agreement was also a topic which was an important part of his agenda, Šefčovič said. He explained that from the US side, the biggest concern is what “the business case” for this change is.

Šefčovič said he told his American officials that 9 million people in the EU were presently working in green tech businesses and that it was expected that this number would double by 2030.

On Paris: “Discussion is ongoing”

Šefčovič said that from all his meetings, including with the new Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, the answers he obtained were very similar: that the discussion is ongoing.

During his election campaign, Trump said he would withdraw from the Paris Agreement and abolish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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Šefčovič said the US government is looking into ways to bring business considerations into the assessment of climate change policies and that it is interested in how the EU is progressing in CCS and CCU (carbon capture, storage and utilisation technologies).

“I understood that this will be one of the research and innovation priorities of the administration,” he said.

Asked if he expected the United States to withdraw from the Paris agreement, Šefčovič answered diplomatically:

“The discussions are ongoing. They are evaluating all the angles, including the advantage of being at the table. […]  They need time to get together their teams, they need time to assess what kind of policies they want to pursue,” he answered

Queried as to when he expected all the positions in the new US government will be filled, Šefčovič said that he was told that the process would be completed by October.

Asked about the competence of Rick Perry, who was criticised in the United States for not qualifying for the energy portfolio, Šefčovič spoke highly of the Texas Republican, adding that he was a “charmer”.

Questioned about Nord Stream 2, Šefčovič said the issue was raised in several meetings he had in the US. This seems to indicate that the new administration opposes the project just as the Obama Administration did.

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Concerning Azerbaijan’s decision to withdraw from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and its possible impact on the Southern Gas Corridor, Šefčovič said the impact was still being assessed.

The EITI board suspended Azerbaijan’s membership at its quarterly meeting in Bogota.

A voluntary organisation comprising 50 energy and mineral-rich countries from around the world, the EITI has become an informal tool for financing decisions by multilateral banks like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The EITI’s decision to drop Azerbaijan is due to its continued crackdown on human rights, which endangers Baku’s ability to complete its landmark project on time.