Energy

For anyone interested in European energy security, and especially the long-suffering Nabucco gas pipeline project, there was a fascinating piece of news on Monday. The Obama administration appointed Richard Morningstar, a former US ambassador to the European Union, as its special envoy for Eurasian energy issues.

Morningstar has a career background not only in EU affairs but in the energy diplomacy of the Caspian Sea area. As such, there is no one better placed to give the Europeans the benefit of US advice on Nabucco, a project some energy analysts think may be doomed to failure unless resolute action is taken soon to finance it, secure the necessary gas supplies and get it up and running. Read more

Negotiating with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister and former president, is hard enough even when Europe’s relations with the Kremlin are going well – which they haven’t been for some while. For an insight into Putin’s brutal, hard as nails character, have a look at the official Russian government transcript of a conversation he had with some Moscow-based western reporters last week.

The discussion, which centres on the shut-off of Russian gas deliveries to the European Union via Ukraine, turns at one point to the possible deployment of EU monitors along the pipeline route through Ukrainian territory. “We hope that the issue will be resolved expeditiously. We don’t want a group of men and women to come to Kiev and just sit in a hotel and sip horilka [Ukrainian vodka],” Putin says. Read more

Buried in last Wednesday’s €200bn European Commission economic recovery plan for Europe was a proposal that sent waves of relief through Lithuanian policymaking circles. This was the idea of allocating €5bn for trans-European energy connections.

A large chunk of this money is destined for Lithuania, the aim being to reduce the dangers that face the country after the planned closure of its Ignalina nuclear power plant on December 31, 2009. Ignalina supplies 70 per cent of Lithuania’s electricity, and when the plant is shut down Lithuania will be almost entirely dependent on Russia for its energy. Read more

It was seven months ago that Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, warned about the risks to international stability from the intensifying competition among countries in the Arctic region. Today the European Parliament drew attention to the issue again by passing a resolution that called on EU policymakers to push for an international treaty for the protection of the Arctic.

Legislators adopted the resolution by 597 votes to 23 with 41 abstentions, demonstrating that it had overwhelming cross-party support. Soon the European Commission will publish a long-awaited report that for the first time will put flesh on the bones of the EU’s Arctic policy. Read more

How much will it cost the European Union to fight global climate change? Clearly, the answer depends on what your target is, how you propose to get there, and the size of the EU’s contribution compared with those of the US, China and so on. But a new report from the Centre for European Policy Studies thinktank offers some useful estimates.

The report assesses six recent studies, ranging from the Stern Review and a World Bank analysis to research prepared by Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company. In these reports, the average annual global costs for mitigating and adapting to climate change are put at anything from €230bn to €614bn, based on 2006 data. Read more

Thursday’s thundering Financial Times editorial on the food crisis unfortunately arrived too late to change opinions on the 13th floor of the Berlaymont, the European Commission nerve centre. The day before the call for a pause in the push for biofuels was made Jose Manuel Barroso, Commission president, defended the policy.

He said the use of crops for fuel had so far had little effect on higher food prices. It can’t be often that the Commission disagrees with its multilateral brethren, the IMF, World Bank and United Nations. Read more

The thaw between Poland and Brussels has sent a chill down spines in Lithuania.

Donald Tusk, the new Polish premier, arrived at the European Commission and parliament on Tuesday to show that his country was back in the centre of Europe. The era of the Kaczynskis, “the terrible twins”, picking fights with Brussels, was over.

The fear in Vilnius is that he may stop picking fights with Russia, too, leaving the Baltic republics, which only recently threw off the Soviet yoke, alone in the ring with the bear. Talks on resolving the Russian blockade of Polish meat, which in turn have held up a new EU-Russia partnership agreement to Brussels’ ill-concealed annoyance, start next week.

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It doesn’t usually take long before the glitz of a European Union summit rubs off. Commitments signed up to amid a fanfare of rhetoric quickly become tarnished. There was a fascinating glimpse behind the shiny green paintwork of the target of sourcing 20 per cent of energy from renewable targets this week – and it wasn’t pleasant. The Guardian newspaper got hold of a government memo showing British bureaucrats are already looking for ways to erase what their leaders signed up to in March. They are lobbying governments and senior Commission officials for a “flexible” interpretation of whatever individual target the UK is assigned, so they can build solar farms in Africa or count nuclear generation. Investing in renewable sources at home is just too expensive.

It would be understandable if the Brits, like the poorer eastern Europeans, had tried to sabotage the idea from the outset. But instead Tony Blair, burnishing his green credentials, welcomed it.

Another "groundbreaking, bold" commitment (Mr Blair’s words), to source 10 per cent of transport fuels from plants by 2020, looks every bit as ugly.

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Weird to see Gerhard Schroeder in Brussels in his job as a businessman/lobbyist for the Russian/German gas industry, especially when you’re more accustomed to watching him throwing his weight around here as Germany’s chancellor.

On Wednesday he was in town representing Nord Stream, the Baltic Sea pipeline project which will run between Russia and Germany, cunningly bypassing Poland. The infrastructure is a joint venture led by Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled gas giant, with two German companies.

As one scornful EU official said: "How nice of him to come to Brussels. Isn’t he an employee of Mr Putin these days?"

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On the face of it, the European Commission had some shocking news for shareholders of Eon and RWE in Germany, OMV in Austria and similar listed energy groups across the region. The Brussels regulator on Wednesday vowed to break up all energy suppliers that are also active in managing networks such as grids and pipelines. It argued that the combination of the two businesses stifled competition.

Given the Commission’s sweeping powers to initiate legislation, scrutinise mergers and pursue antitrust infringements, such a step is certainly not beyond Brussels’ reach. That would mean forcing some of Europe’s biggest groups not only to sell off priceless assets but also to face much sharper competition from smaller rivals.

And yet, this shocking news somehow failed to strike fear in the hearts of investors. RWE’s shares actually gained slightly, while Eon and OMV posted only minuscule falls that mirrored the broader market. What’s up? Don’t traders read the newspaper?

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