SOUTH STREAM FIGHT
Europe is betting on the acceleration of the Southern Gas Corridor, which has been defined a key project along with the Vertical Corridor from Greece to Romania through Bulgaria.
"Turkish and Azerbaijani have very strong intentions to build the project on time" Maros Sefcovic, Energy Union Commissioner said during a conference in Brussels on Tuesday, referring to a recent meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Sefcovic focused on Brussels' plans for cooperation with Caspian countries and for a more integrated internal market, not providing significant insights into the most pressing issues.
He did not delve deeper into the current debate about the South Stream. He simply said that the European Union is called to safeguard the interest of all the Member States and that European authorities will consider all the instances put forward by European countries.
Earlier on Tuesday, he met with representatives of Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, Croatia, Italy, Greece and Romania. During the conference, he explained that the European Commission has to gather more information before taking a position.
"We are working to understand how we can address the issue in the best possible way" Sefcovic said during the press conference in Brussels, defining the South Stream a project of "paramount importance."
Despite the remarks, it seems that a final decision on the South Stream project will not have to do with Brussels. Moscow could change its mind - retreating from the position announced last week - but this won't probably depend on the EU. Sefkovic's voice could easily pass unheard. Eventual U-turns could be triggered only by diverging interests between Turkey and Russia.
This soft European approach is arguably a mistake. The decisions taken by European officials in the energy sector are of great importance at the moment, as political debates in Bulgaria could be a real threat for Eastern Europe and the EU as a whole.
Former Bulgarian Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov stated that his country would lose more than €600 million per year from the South Stream and blamed the current Bulgaria government for incompetence in the negotiation process.
A political struggle within its borders would not help Europe improving its already tarnished reputation. The pipeline from Greece to Romania (and Serbia) through Bulgaria could be too little compensation to appease political bickering in Sofia. That is why, Energy Commissioner(s) have an unprecedented key political role.
BRUSSELS TAKE TIME ON THE EAST MEDITERRANEAN PIPELINE
A cautious behaviour also characterised Sefkovic's remarks about East Mediterranean riches.
The Energy Union Commissioner took time on the pipeline connecting East Mediterranean reserves to Italy through Greece. Sefcovic renewed European interest for the pipeline, but stated that investments' opportunities will be clear at a later stage, only after feasibility studies.
"It was a preliminary discussion... we need additional feasibility studies before taking a decision" Sefcovic commented, referring to his meeting with officials from Greece and Cyprus on Monday.
According to him, the interconnector between Cyprus and Greece is challenging from a technical point of view. This implies the need of additional analysis.
Apart from technical aspects, the EU Commissioner spoke about two parameters to take into consideration before taking any decision. Firstly, Brussels has to analyse the impact of the project on European energy security. Secondly, it has to understand whether the project could be "bankable and useful for Cyprus."
Claudio De Vincenti, Italy's Deputy Minister for Economic Development, was more enthusiastic about the project, adding that the pipeline from the East Mediterranean sea is appealing.
"We think it is important to prop up the feasibility studies... The project is important for the diversification of the sources" De Vincenti said during the conference of the Energy Council, betraying a certain Italian interest on the project.
The meeting was the first Energy Council with the new Commission. It was also the last one under the Italian Presidency.
"The Italian Presidency managed to work on a very ambitious agenda" Sefcovic said, adding that "all the 2020 targets will be met" despite the current difficulties.
The Italian presidency, which started in July, will come to an end in less than a month. The Presidency has expressed its opinion on several thorny issues. In the energy sector, it mainly focused on interconnectors.
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