Tuesday, April 24, 2007

First Thoughts from Europe

I have been attending a conference in Berlin hosted at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), co-sponsored by The Nixon Center and the German Marshall Fund, on Russia, energy security and trans-Atlantic relations, with German, Polish and U.S. participants from the think tank world, government and the private sector.

The definition of energy security is itself elusive and then trying to formulate a common European or even trans-Atlantic approach seems near impossible. As a result, one falls back upon "national interest". There are also significant differences between defining security as "security of supply" or "security of amounts" versus security defined in terms of diversification.

One point--Gazprom is apparently considering developing energy supply "depots" in countries like Hungary, Serbia, Belgium, Germany and Italy--places where significant amounts of natural gas can be held in reserve and which would reduce the impact of any pipeline disruptions. (Hungary is also considering working with GAZPROM to develop the southern Blue Stream route (gas from Russia to Turkey and then into Europe, which would completely bypass Ukraine). One result is that Gazprom might end up splitting Europe into favored customers and regular customers; so is a European energy policy about making sure all Europeans get energy, or that all Europeans are treated equally (and pay the same price)?

Energy policy also can't be divorced from environment and climate change issues (should central and eastern Europe go back to using more coal or developing new nuclear plants); and from other aspects of foreign policy. I was struck by reporting at the conference that by the 2020s, unless significant new gas deposits come on line, Europe would be hit by a 25 percent gap between projected demand and projected supply. So sooner or later Iran's gas reserves are going to come up. The Austrians are already breaking ranks and thinking about new investments in Iran for this reason.

I'll spend more time in the coming days detailing the German-Polish debate on energy and growing concerns about whether problems with the U.S. are the result of the Bush Administration or are more structural in nature.

Europe will regret putting the fate of their energy relations with Russia in the hands of the Poles and Balts. The quality of Polish strategic judgement was demonstrated in the Fall of 1938, when Polish FM Colonel Beck was up in arms, not about German demands on Czechoslovakia, but about Soviet combat aircraft transiting Romanian airspace on their way to Czechoslovakia...

It dosen't appear to have gotten any better.
Poland really doesn't grasp the fundamental basis of the European project which is reconciliation leading to cooperation. This is what France and Germany were able to achieve. INstead it tries to use the EU as a way to get even with Russia and the more that other EU members feel that they are sacrificing their own interests the more Poland is going to find itself isolated.
To the previous "Anonymous" contributors--the real problem is that neither Russia nor Germany has gotten used to the reality that Poland is in fact a full member of the EU and that we aren't in 1791 or 1939 anymore.

Poland has its national interests to look out for but Poland also feels that its stance on issues vis-a-vis Russia is one that benefits Europe's interests in the long run as well.
Why do you keep on going back to 1939?

Is it still relevant?
The Polish government thinks 1939 is very relevant. Hence the Polish Defense Minister's comments when the German and Russian governments announced their Baltic Sea pipeline deal.

And Germany is certainly aware that Poland is a full EU member. Germany is after all one of the countries that invited Poland to join.

As to what is in the interest to the EU, certainly it would be in their interest if Russia ratified the Energy Charter. But the Russian government is not going to, even if the united voice of the EU were to rise in all its power and majesty demanding it. The Russian government will say no.

And this is well understood in Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Moscow. It is also well understood in Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Moscow that the time for negotiating long-term energy supply deals is now. Do a quick google on "Ghawar", Cantarell", "and "North Sea" and you will understand what I mean. All that remains is to see that Mr. Piebalgs is powerless to do anything about what you will find in the results of your google search, and you will understand that Poland impeding discussions with Russia does grave harm to the EU.

And that includes Poland, by the way.
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