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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

EU needs joint policy against divisive powers, whichever.

The London Financial Times is an invaluable source of timely and well informed analysis and comments on European affairs. Latest proof: Wolfgang Munchau: "EU needs a joint response" [to a newly assertive Russia, playing "divide et impera" among the EU-countries, using its position as an energy provider]. [Link for subscribers only].
The case for a joint response to Russian oil and gas imperialism is overwhelming. Yet Germany and others prefer to deal with Russia on a bilateral basis, often undermining the wider EU interest in the process. If handled badly, Russia’s energy diplomacy has the potential to divide the EU just as much the US-led war against Iraq did three years ago.
A striking parallel. It is no accident, that US vice-president Dick Cheney went all the way to Vilnius, to contribute last week to this new opening for division within Europe, posing as the only rock-solid anti-Russian, eastern European countries may count on. Poland's new ultra-nationalist government did not stay behind, talking about a "new Stalin-Ribbentrop Pact" [1939: German-Soviet treaty that was the basis for conquering and dividing Finland, the Baltic countries and Poland.], meaning the nes direct gas-pipeline contract between Germany and Russia.
Under Schröder, Germany has indeed begun playing into the hands of Putin, enabling him to cut off energy delivery to countries individually. Angela Merkel continues that policy. And that is no wonder, for it is the outcome of two developments that have nothing to do with Poland. First: the gradually abandonment of nuclear power generation in Germany itself, and, second: the factual destruction of NATO, symbolized in the US rejection of European solidarity after September 11.
EU-solidarity is not (yet) an alternative. Main cause: the UK. But also the generally growing nationalist economic policies of other EU countries.
Munchau shows convincingly, that the EU, if sufficiently united, has the power to force Russia to behave as a normal provider.
As Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels points out, the EU should opt for a two-pronged policy response. It should formulate a joint position in the short run and reduce its dependence on Russian gas in the long run. For the time being, the EU should put maximum pressure on Russia to ratify the energy charter, which sets the ground rules for the trade and transport of energy in Europe. It was agreed by 49 European states in 1994 but Russia continues to refuse to ratify the treaty because it objects to the charter’s draft transit protocol. This would oblige Russia to open up spare pipeline capacity to foreign suppliers. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Mr Putin met in March to discuss this issue but without success.

The EU should also agree on a mutual support mechanism. This would be similar to Nato’s mutual defence clause. If Russia ever cut off gas supplies to any single EU member, other EU countries would be obliged to make up the shortfall. Such a mechanism could also go some way to neutralise the political fears caused by the Baltic Sea pipeline project.

The most intelligent long-run response consists of further energy liberalisation, securing alternative supply routes such as the planned pipeline project from the Caspian basin, and investing in liquefied natural gas, which is easier to transport.

Perhaps the single most important long-term measure – currently resisted by many EU states including Germany – would be to rethink their policy to phase out nuclear energy. Nuclear energy would not eliminate the need for gas imports but could play an important part in a strategy to reduce dependency on an increasingly aggressive monopoly supplier in the long run.

Excepting the last point, all this is relatively easy and seems efficient and effective. The central-eastern EU-members, whose fear of "imperialist" forcing under more and more assertive historic "great powers" in the region (Russia, Germany, Austria) is absolutely justified, would be happy with such a guarantee. And it would also help them, to tune in with a prudent European attitude in world policy, thus barring somewhat more the American neocons from creating havock in the European chicken ren (like they did during the Iraq crisis).
Undeniably, it would be a good thing for Germany, too: trading its atlantic and European dependence for an exclusive dependence on Russia in energy matters, is, in the longer run, a dangerous adventure.
Munchau is right, that the actual situation presents a wide window of opportunity for an effective European solidarity. It is much more important than gas alone.
Where are the European states(wo)men to take it up?

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