Monday, November 20, 2006
Energy Is What It's All About
A gabfest worth taken a closer look at is taking place in Brussels. EU suits are huddling around tables to discuss the energy conundrum Europe finds itself in. You see Russia has Europe by the energy taps. Russia supplies a quarter of Europe's oil and over two-fifths of its gas. Some more numbers. Europe gets about 50 percent of all its energy from abroad. Add to that the fact it's own energy sources, mainly oil in the North Sea, are drying up. Add to that demand for energy around the planet -- but mainly in China and India -- is skyrocketing. But what's the problem? After all, Europe sits next door to the huge supplies of both gas and oil buried under the earth in Russia. Aha, there's the problem. It's the ol' unreliable Ruskies with all that energy wealth. And the Europeans know it and don't like it. You see, the Europeans got a scare last winter when the Russian gas spiggot to Europe was turned off briefly during a spat between Russia and Ukraine over gas prices. The horrible Russians wanted the Ukrainians -- veering Westward at the time under President Viktor Yushchenko -- to pay market prices for gas, and not the subsidized price -- about four times under market price -- they had enjoyed. For some reason, all those market-uber-alles guys in the West, condemned Russia for its effrontery. Since then, EU apparatchiks have bleated about a "united energy policy," i.e. the Europeans have got to stand together to beat back Vladimir Putin, who they accuse of using Russia's energy resources as a tool of foreign policy. The nerve of that Putin. The EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, reminded the Russians that EU cash is fueling Russia's rebirth. I give you here cryptic diplomatese: "The substantial and reliable flow of revenues that Russia obtains from selling energy to the EU has undoubtedly been one of the key factors in Russia's economic revival." The EU's head don, Jose Manuel Barroso, was equally ridiculous, saying "Russia is an important parter for the EU in energy. But it is not, and should not be, the EU's only partner." Yeah, you tell 'em Jose. On a serious note Barroso said the EU has signed an energy cooperation agreement with Ukraine which covered nuclear safety, the integration of electricity and gas markets, enhanced security of energy supplies, and the transit of hydrocarbons through the country. He said a similar agreement has been signed with Azerbaijan and another will be signed shortly with Kazakhstan. The EU strategy is clear: line up as many energy pals as possible to counter the Russians. Putin, meanwhile, has not sat pat. Russia and Germany have agreed to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. So much for EU team play. Like the EU, Poland doesn't like the plan either because it bypasses their territory, and weakens their leverage with the Russians. So now, Poland is holding up talks on a new EU-Russia Pact. Maybe Solana said it best: "The scramble for energy risks being pretty unprincipled." No kidding.