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BB200710, News in Brief

European Parliament and EU foreign energy policy

05.11.2007

On 26 September, the European Parliament called for a strengthened EU energy policy towards third countries in order to protect European energy security. The majority of MEPs (552 to 103) voted in support of a report by Jacek Saryus-Wolski which argues that it is necessary to unify policy at EU level, although the Member States would carry on choosing their own supply structures and energy mix. Such legislation is particularly targeted at third countries such as Russia, which provides 25% of the EU’s gas supplies. In 2006, the Russian producer Gazprom cut off supplies to the Ukraine, which affected some of the Member States and was, according to the European Parliament, “a real wake-up call for the EU”, which subsequently intensified discussions on energy security.

The report also suggests the nomination of a High Official for Foreign Energy Policy, who would be linked both to the European Commission and to the Council. This ‘Energy Tsar’ would be a vice-president of the Commission, and work under Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The High Official would co-ordinate the foreign energy policy.

The rapporteur states that all decisions on major bilateral agreements with third countries should be the subject of prior consultation between Member States and the Commission. He also “encourages the Commission to take appropriate steps to prevent uncontrolled investment of state-owned foreign companies in the EU’s energy sector”, basing energy relationships with third countries on “the principle of reciprocity”.

The ‘reciprocity clause’ was part of the Commission’s third energy liberalisation package, published on 19 September this year. This clause aims to ensure that third countries are subject to the same unbundling conditions as Member States before they can gain control of EU transmission systems or transmission system operators (TSOs). It is widely believed to target Gazprom: although the Russian electricity sector is already unbundled, Gazprom remains closely linked with the state.

On 16 October, Russian Energy Minister Victor Khristenko met EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in Brussels for talks on the energy situation. At the meeting, they announced the setting-up of a group of experts from the EU and Russia to discuss the ‘reciprocity clause’. The Russian government will take an official position once the talks are concluded, but Khristenko, speaking personally, said he was dubious that gas network unbundling should be carried out in the same way as electricity unbundling. However, he was positive on his country’s participation in further discussions on the matter.

At the meeting with Piebalgs, Khristenko also suggested the possibility of a new two-part early warning system. One part would alert the EU and Russia to any new legislation, long-term risks or opportunities on energy-related matters, and the other would allow information to be shared on short-term issues which could lead to difficulties.

The EU and Russia agreed to go ahead with this early warning system at their meeting in Portugal on 26 October. A road-map for the creation of the EU foreign energy policy should be drawn up by the end of 2007.

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