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22nd Sep 2019

EU parliament chief: energy security needs public money

Europe's multi-billion-euro needs for energy infrastructure and new technologies cannot be funded only by the private sector, European Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek has said, in a position putting him on collision course with Germany.

"We need both: regulation and money. The annual EU budget for energy today is €20 million. It's negligible, if we compare it to what a few kilometres of pipeline cost," the Polish politician told EUobserver in an interview on Thursday (3 February).

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  • Mr Buzek: 'The private sector alone cannot finance all energy projects Europe needs' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Earlier this week, German officials said that Berlin - the largest net contributor to the EU budget - said the private sector should foot the bill, with the EU role to be limited to "smart regulation."

Mr Buzek is set to meet EU leaders on Friday during a summit formally dedicated to energy and innovation, but which is likely to be swamped by talk of Egypt and the financial crisis.

"If we want to protect the environment, we need new technologies and we should spend money together with the EU for their development, because they are a great European added value," Mr Buzek went on.

He cited the 10,000 wind turbines installed last year in China and estimates by the EU commission that Europe needs a few hundred billion euros in energy infrastructure investments in the coming years. Admitting that national budgets are under pressure, Mr Buzek said that "this sum can only be generated with the help of the public sector."

"Certainly, most money should come from private investors. But in today's economic climate, the EU should give the financial leverage to private companies to reduce the risks they face."

As some inter-connections may not be commercially viable, it is even more important to have the EU and national coffers foot the bill to some extent, he explained, giving the example of the North-South energy corridor.

The North-South proposal - designed to link eastern EU countries to western ones to reduce their exposure to Russia - was finalised on Thursday night at a meeting of the so-called Visegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic) plus Romania, Bulgaria and EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso. Mr Barroso said details will come out in the next few months and that the EU should endorse the scheme "in the second semester" of 2011.

Dealing with Russia

Mr Buzek added that while most big energy deals concern private companies, it is normal for governments to get involved on a bilateral basis and even better if the EU negotiates en bloc.

"Usually, big energy deals are done with the political support of governments. It is always the same - North Stream, South Stream, even Nabucco. Our companies are not alone and neither are foreign companies," he said.

He noted that EU countries sometimes go against each others' interests on energy.

"Nabucco is a fully European project, while South Stream is developed by some member states together with Russia and independently from the EU commission. The difficulties and competition between the two show how important it is to have co-ordination and joint negotiations when dealing with external partners," he said, referring to two major gas pipeline projects in the Caspian region.

The Polish politician also urged Russia to abide by EU internal market rules on unbundling - the separation of production and transmission assets in the energy sector.

"We want to see Russia as a transparent, coherent and predictable energy partner. The new EU rules also prevent a massive sell-out of European assets and equal conditions for all players," he said.

No Karimovs

Mr Buzek, who has taken a firm stand on human rights issues during his tenure as parliament chief, said there should be no trade-off on values and energy sceurity.

"We simply cannot divide the issue of human rights from energy supplies. The two must go hand in hand. When I was in Russia, we discussed this very openly with [Russia's] President Medvedev, but we know it's not easy and much more has to be done in Russia on the human rights issue and in other countries as well," he explained.

Asked his view on the recent visit of Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov to Brussels to talk about gas with Mr Barroso, Mr Buzek said: "I didn't meet Mr Karimov and have no intention to do so."

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