EU Officials Upbeat On Prospects For Caspian Gas Link
BRUSSELS, November 23,
2007 (RFE/RL) -- The EU has reaffirmed its resolve to seek independent access to
gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region, bypassing
Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said on November 22 that the diversification of gas
deliveries will cut prices for European consumers and increase the bloc's
security of supply. The European Commission has long identified the countries
surrounding the Caspian Sea as potentially a major alternative Russian supplies.
The majority of those countries' gas exports to Europe today transits through
After a meeting with Piebalgs, the EU-appointed
coordinator for the Nabucco gas pipeline from Turkey to Austria, Jozias van
Aartsen, said he believes the project is feasible. He said all EU countries
whose territories it crosses are resolved to proceed with Nabucco.
I've [achieved] in the past two months is that all the four countries in the EU
side -- Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania -- are glued to the project
again, are really involved again, and do see the project as a priority for their
countries," van Aartsen said.
Van Aartsen said the two main hurdles
remaining are funds and the EU's own bureaucracy.
Thus, the European
Commission must rule whether to exempt the Nabucco consortium from EU rules that
require all infrastructure to be freely accessible to all companies active in
the field. Investors in Nabucco say an exemption is necessary to make the
project attractive for investors. The ruling is due in January
Aartsen also said the energy companies of the countries involved
have indicated they are prepared to commit the necessary funds to the project.
Aartsen said Austria's national energy giant OMV, which heads the Nabucco
consortium, is particularly "positive."
Opening The 'Southern
He added that funding may also be available for other
"southern corridor" projects. This could be a reference to EU-backed plans to
build a pipeline across the Caspian Sea to extend the list of Nabucco's
suppliers to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. EU officials say they will in the
coming few days unveil the results of two feasibility studies on the prospects
for a trans-Caspian route.
But initially, investors in Nabucco have
confined their calculations to gas from Azerbaijan. Talks are under way with
Iran -- which has the largest proven gas reserves in the world. Egypt could also
become a supplier.
If Nabucco manages to tap into Central Asian gas
reserves, it could in future supply between 10-15 percent of the EU's total
consumption. The pipeline's initial capacity will be just under 30 billion cubic
meters. This would put it on a par with the projected Nord Stream pipeline from
Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany.
Turkey would become a key
transit hub. EU officials have predicted that it's role could rival that of
Ukraine in 10-15 years' time.
Van Aartsen's earlier comment about the
newfound resolve of the Nabucco partner countries was a tacit reference to
Russia's attempts to derail Nabucco. Moscow has sought to conclude bilateral
supply and transit deals with all these countries, as well as Italy and Greece,
in a bid to render Nabucco commercially unviable.
But van Aartsen said
Moscow's obstructionism appears to have waned since the summer, and he
reiterated that Nabucco is not conceived by the EU as an "anti-Russian"
"I [have] stated from the start, that the Nabucco project, which
is one of the important projects in the [EU's] southern corridor is not an
'anti-this' or 'pro-that' project," van Aartsen said. "It's not an anti-Russian
project, but just about the need for diversification of the EU['s supplies]. The
European Union, in the longer term, [if] you look 10 or 15 years ahead, can't
accept, of course, a monopoly of supply out of this region."
said he hopes "the Russians can understand that." His optimism, however, may
prove to be exaggerated, as gas exports to Europe, of which transit from Central
Asia forms a major part, are a major source of income for Moscow. The EU's
dependence on Russian gas supplies -- which amount to more than a quarter of its
total consumption -- is also increasingly being exploited by Moscow as a lever
to influence the bloc's foreign-policy
Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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