MEPs, Piebalgs discuss common Russia, Ukraine Belarus approach

Author: Kostis Geropoulos

For the European Union, energy today is as important as coal and steel used to be for the founding fathers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted as saying by members of the delegations for relations with Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in a joint meeting with EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs at the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week.

The problem with energy now, and especially oil and gas, is that, unlike coal and steel back then, the EU doesn't have enough. The 27-country bloc imports 82 percent of its oil and 57 percent of its gas from third party states. In 25 years this percentage will rise to 93 percent of its oil and 84 percent of its gas.

Russia is a key energy supplier to the EU, especially for gas, and a good part of these supplies transit through Ukraine and Belarus. Therefore, it was not surprising that MEPs and officials, especially those that fear energy dependence on Russia, packed a well-hidden conference room at the Salvador de Madariaga wing in the European Parliament to discuss security of energy supplies and developments in EU energy relations with these three countries.

Though Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are different, there are many things which make sense to have a joint approach, at least on some crucial issues, when dealing with these three countries.

Polish MEP Bogdan Klich, chairman delegation for relations with Belarus, said the EU has recently received signals about the willingness of the Belarus authoritarian regime to engage in an energy dialogue with Brussels. "But, when we exchanged views recently with the representatives of (foreign policy chief Javier) Mr. Solana, we concluded that there shouldn't be any compromise on values with Belarus."

Regarding Ukraine, he said the political crisis has slowed down EU-Ukraine cooperation in energy. "To resolve this political crisis it is one of the preconditions for a fruitful energy dialogue with this country," Klich said.

Romanian MEP Adrian Severin, chairman of the delegation to the EU-Ukraine parliamentary cooperation committee, told the joint meeting the EU needs a strategy on energy inside the EU as much as it needs a strategy in dealing with these three countries. "We cannot have to my mind an external strategy or a joint foreign policy in terms of energy if we don't have a joint or a harmonised internal policy in the field of energy," he said.

Severin said the EU-Russia relations need reciprocity and urged Russia as a supplier to behave in a way which is consistent with the market rules and not to use these resources to promote its geopolitical agenda.

Dutch MEP Ria Oomen Ruijten, chairwoman of the delegation of the EU-Russia parliamentary cooperation committee, said Russia already has a big impact on the European energy market. "We are missing our treaty, and, in the meantime, long-ranging contacts are negotiated by our Member States with Russia for the years up to 2010-2025. The only thing that we can do is that in the upcoming Partnership (and Cooperation) Agreement (PCA) we negotiate a new basis for our energy politics," she said.

After the debate, Commissioner Piebalgs told New Europe the EU needs energy included in basic treaties of the European Union. He said the EU will be able to speak with one voice on energy. "We should not be too pessimistic because the councils of the Member States are of the same line and the bigger divergence we have had was about Nabucco with Hungary and it was shorted out. Hungary continues to support it," he said.

He said he hopes Russia-EU talks on the new PCA that includes energy will start soon to replace the current pact. Poland vetoed the talks over the Russian ban on meat. "It is a test for the strength of the European Union and I believe that if we will be strong in support of Poland, the Russian authorities will understand that banning Polish meat makes no legal and no political sense, so, in this way we can move in negotiations about a post PCA agreement that is beneficial not only to the European Union but also Russia as well. I believe we will have this treaty," he said, smiling. "I don't know how much time it will take, but it's not too long."