EU wakes up to global energy pressures
Energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs said energy supply has begun to play a key role in EU foreign policy in the past nine months, responding to criticisms of inaction from Polish MEP Bronislaw Geremek on Wednesday (11 January).
"Now, in external relations, energy has moved up the agenda", he said. "We clearly understand that energy is a priority, it's always been a priority, but now it's never missing off the agenda."
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He indicated member states are "united" in thinking the EU needs a common energy policy on the model of the common foreign and security policy.
The European Commission will "steer" the EU toward this goal at the Austrian presidency's first summit in March, he added, warning that Europe faces "a major crisis in energy" in the next 20 years unless something is done.
"If we don't agree on some rules, we will clearly end up with very bad scenarios," the Latvian commissioner said.
EU energy dependency hit the headlines this month after the Russia-Ukraine gas price dispute saw gas supplies to some EU states plummet overnight.
The EU imports about 50 percent of its gas and 75 percent of oil, with the world facing fierce competition for resources as global consumption soars.
Russia and China seize the initiative
Mr Piebalgs made his remarks at an academic debate about Royal Dutch Shell's global outlook to 2025, hosted by think-tank Friends of Europe at the Bibliotheque Solvay in Brussels.
His comments came in response to liberal MEP and former Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek, who said Russia's decision to turn off gas to Ukraine on 1 January posed questions about the EU's lack of response to energy threats so far.
"Up till now, the commission was unable to formulate such an energy security policy, I mean security from dependence," Mr Geremek indicated.
He said Russia plans to regain its status as a superpower on the basis of its energy wealth, while the rise of China means that by 2025 the world's biggest economy could also be a non-democratic state.
In the meantime, an ageing European society and its enervated political community is doing little to influence the trend Mr Geremek argued.
"Europe is the place with the main soft power in the world, with its tradition of democracy, but it has been unable until now to create a policy in the field of energy security," he stated.
"I think we've been living in a fool's paradise, a paradise where energy policy was off the agenda," former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt said at the debate.
He pointed out that 50 percent of the world's daily traded oil is shipped via the strait of Hormuz bordering Iran.
"The almighty, or whoever was responsible for the allocation of our energy resources, was very frustrating, putting them in extremely hard places and locations, with the exception of Norway," Mr Bildt quipped.