Mandil: Energy solidarity ‘still just words’

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Several EU governments did not show solidarity over the recent gas crisis, former executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Claude Mandil told EURACTIV in an interview.

Former International Energy Agency (IEA) Director Claude Mandil is the author of a recent report on energy security, commissioned by the French EU Presidency. He spoke at a recent conference ‘Investing in Europe’s Energy Future,’ organised by the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Brussels. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

The European Commission recently unveiled an economic package worth 3.5 billion euro, mostly to support clean coal projects, offshore wind farms and a few gas pipeline interconnectors. What’s your assessment of this package, which must now be approved by member states? 

3.5 billion is a big number, but at the same time, it’s not enough to really address the problems that we have. I would say that in the context of the recent gas crisis, the Union should spend at least 3.5 billion on compressors to be able to move gas both eastwards and westwards. We must ensure that solidarity among EU nations in case of gas supply disruptions really applies. 

Who is to blame for the recent gas crisis? The Commission and the politicians will not say. As an expert, perhaps you can explain what really happened? 

No, I cannot explain, and that is the problem. 

I support the Commission, which tries to stay neutral, because the main problem here is opacity. There have been a lot of intermediaries who are far from transparent, which means we don’t know exactly what happened. But it is absolutely not the role of Europe, or of the European Commission, to be the arbiter. 

If Russia is right, which may be the case, what I still don’t understand is: why did they decide to cut the gas in the middle of the winter, instead of going to international arbitration courts? They said it was a commercial dispute between Gazprom and Ukrainian commercial organisations. But there are courts for that! You don’t cut gas when you are a civilised country. 

Do you agree with Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who said on Thursday (5 February) that Russia does not use energy for political purposes in the EU? 

Well, if they don’t play political games, why don’t they go to the courts? 

What are the lessons learned from the gas crisis? 

Solidarity is still just words, due to a lack of political will in some countries. 

Can you name them? 

I will name one. There has been a decree issued by the Italian government saying that any operator supplying gas in Italy has to divert all its imports in order to supply Italy. Which is a total shame. A total shame! Meaning that Italy doesn’t care for a second for the global supply of Europe. Which is the exact opposite of European solidarity. 

But that’s just an example, I don’t want to single out Italy, because other countries, to a lesser extent, have demonstrated the same kind of absence of solidarity. 

The absence of solidarity was also exacerbated because we lack investment. I already mentioned the compressors that cannot be reverted. Also, a lot has to be done to boost LNG terminals, to increase energy efficiency and to go more nuclear. 

Regarding nuclear, in the context of the crisis, Slovakia and Bulgaria signalled their intentions to restart reactors they had closed as part of their EU accession deals. How would you comment? 

That’s a knee-jerk reaction under heavy political pressure. Of course, it is not possible to reopen these reactors. They have taken strong commitments during their accession process to the EU. The closure of Bohunice for Slovakia and of [four reactors] of Kozloduy in Bulgaria are in the accession treaties and there is no way of changing that. 

But that means, again, that we have to express real solidarity with those countries. By the way, the nuclear option for Slovakia and Bulgaria remains, and both countries are building new nuclear power plants. But the plants that have been shut down should not be reopened. 

In the wider context, does nuclear enjoy better prospects after this crisis? 

Maybe. But it’s a more long-term issue. More and more countries and more parts of the public opinion realise that in the long term, nuclear is a competitive way of producing electricity without emitting CO2. That is something to be taken into account. But you cannot develop nuclear energy against your public opinion. The Austrians don’t want nuclear, but they also don’t need it. 

So, nuclear energy has a future where public opinion is favourable? 

Yes. Yes. 

And this is an asset for those countries? 

Sure. Absolutely! 

Regarding the Nabucco gas pipeline project: some believe its future prospects have improved in the wake of the crisis. What is your view? 

I’m not sure. I think it still faces many hurdles. There is not enough gas to fill the pipeline, as long as we don’t get gas from Iran, when all the political difficulties are solved. 

And there is another difficulty, which has not been emphasised much, which is that most of the gas piped in Nabucco may stay in Turkey. Because Turkey’s gas needs are enormous. And in addition, I am not totally convinced that Turkey is prepared to play the game of the fair transit country. At least, that’s not what some of its leaders have said. 

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