Russia and Gazprom were on everyone’s lips at the annual conference of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Brussels last week, which focused on the EU’s external energy policy.
Speaking at the closing session on 1 February, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana admitted that Europe still had a long way to go before getting a credible external energy policy. “Clearly, we do not have one yet,” Solana said.
“In Europe, we have seen real progress on tackling climate change; some progress on the internal energy side; but rather less progress on the external side. Too often, we see mixed messages and the defence of narrow, national interests at the expense of broader, European interests.”
On the divisive issue of Russia, Solana advocated a pragmatic approach based on mutual recognition of interdependence. “Consumers need to buy but producers need to sell. It is worth recalling that all the existing infrastructure in Russia runs West, not East.”
But he also defended the “justified concern across Europe” about Russia’s leveraging of energy as a political tool, saying that there is “in principle nothing that stops us, the Europeans, from matching their determination with our own discipline.”
In particular, he insisted that the EU “should also stick to our insistence that there has to be reciprocity in terms of investments upstream and downstream” as proposed in the Commission’s third package of energy liberalisation directives in September last year (EURACTIV 20/09/07).
“It is up to us to avoid the kind of fragmented, bilateral negotiations which leave all of us worse off,” Solana said. “Perhaps this cannot happen overnight. But it’s important to get started,” he added, highlighting “more discipline and loyalty” between Europeans during bilateral talks with third countries as a first step.