Baltic Hopes dashed by EU indecisiveness at EU/Russia energy meeting

  • 2006-10-25
  • By TBT staff

NO AGREEMENT: Having trouble getting together, the EU fails to get Russia to sign energy charter.

Last Friday's informal meeting between the EU and Russia on signing an energy charter that would liberalize relations in the energy sphere between the EU and Russia did not result in any agreement.

Taking advantage of the inability of the EU to form any kind of consensus on the charter, Russia (who really holds the cards) has decided to hold off on locking down any kind of energy agreement with the EU, effectively dashing any hopes for the Baltics that the EU could help solve their energy security problems with Russia.

Lithuania received promises to mention the politically motivated cut off of crude to Mazeikiu, Estonia's Ansip had it out with France about tying values to economics, and the EU's Latvian energy commissioner being more cool and pragmatic about it all, but in the end the lack of any real consensus by the EU foiled the good idea of an energy charter between the bloc and Russia.

Germany's Angela Merkel saw the importance of an agreement with Russia for the new member states stating that she wanted Russia to break down the barriers to its energy market and assure the EU that its contracts could be trusted. The International Herald Tribune reported that, she called on Russia to ratify an energy charter, which would open more transit lines and more access to independent gas producers in Russia and neighboring former Soviet states. Speaking as Russia's biggest customer her words tend to have some clout.

However, the argument about combining morals to energy sidelined the charter. Friday's exchange of comments between France and Estonia illuminate the troubled and fractured interests within the EU about pushing Russia on this level.

"There is no question that we should try and link moral issues to economic interests," French President Jacques Chirac said, but he also called on the bloc not to confuse moral issues with economic ones when dealing with Russia adding. "There are economic questions and there are human rights and these are two different issues that should not be connected."

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip expressed an opposite view and urged the EU to press Putin about human rights, including the recent murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

"We have to take a very strong position," he said. "We have to find a good balance between values and economic interests. But it is totally wrong to pay attention only to interests."

The failure of the EU and Russia to come together seemed to be predicted by Russia.

Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizov commented to the International Herald Tribune last week that, "The EU has become a multi-headed monster that many in Russia don't comprehend and the number of heads keeps increasing," and in an indirect stab at the Baltic states he added, "The EU acquisition of the newcomers from the East made things more difficult because it brought in countries with grievances of the past Soviet era, a hangover from the Cold War and one that extends as far back as the 19th century."

However the EU's Latvian energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs was quite pragmatic in response to the ambassador's comments. "I would say values and issues related to free trade, not only in energy but in all areas, is actually the key answer," Piebalgs told adding, "Energy will buy and sell itself anyhow, so we should not be too worried about it. The big challenge is stable relations."

He went on to explain the new states special relationship with Russia saying, "The new member states have higher stakes in relations with Russia because they are closer to Russia. It's not so much historical relations, It's not because we are remembering a Russia when the Czar was still there."

"A prosperous and democratic Russia is the best way to develop our economic and political interests. We have a lot more at stake than, say, Portugal, in our relations with Russia," he added.

However, until those in, say, Portugal or France, choose to legitimately include the views of their new members and work for an EU wide deal with Russia, the supplier will have the upper hand and the Baltic's will need to find another way to secure fair play when dealing with Russia.