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Friday, 6 February 2015

Energy Politics: Empowerment or dependency

David Madden (SEESOX Associate; Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

The second seminar in the series Global South East Europe in a multi-polar world, “Energy Politics: Empowerment or dependency” took place on 28 January.

Konstantinos Filis (Institute of International Relations, Athens) spoke about trends in the European gas market, Russian-EU relations and Greece. The market was down by 15% compared with 2010. Demand was reduced by the economic downturn. The emphasis was on diversification (reducing dependence on Russia), conservation, energy saving, indigenous production, interconnectivity of networks and development of infrastructure. There were doubts about the dependability of Russian supply, particularly in the light of events in the Ukraine, but 17 EU member states still relied on Russia for over 80% of their imports. The Turkish Stream would not replace South Stream in terms of quantities, but would weaken Kiev’s transit role, and strengthen relations with Turkey. For gas coming into the EU, it might run into objections on the lines encountered by South Stream, but Russia would expect the EU to sort those out. In the short term SEE was unlikely to reduce dependence on Russia, but would have better access to alternative supplies by 2018/9. Greece needed new investment in infrastructure, but the picture was clouded by the new government and early decisions on privatisation. Generally, lower prices meant reduced interest in deep off-shore fields, including in Greece.

Diana Bozhilova (Kings and NCH) covered developments in the Balkans, especially concentrating on Bulgaria and Serbia. Compared with Central Europe, SEE was an outlier with less energy security. Bulgaria and Serbia were 90% dependant on Russia, and both had been damaged by the cancellation of South Stream (which would probably lead to the scrapping of other networks and interconnections) . Shale exploration was banned in Bulgaria, and tightly licensed in Serbia. Declining energy prices might mean infrastructure projects would be put on the back-burner, further damaging prospects

Androulla Kaminara (European Commission- speaking in personal capacity) concentrated on the Eastern Mediterranean (Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt). She started with the global mega changes in energy: falling oil prices with supply out-stripping demand, the Russia/China energy deal etc. Turkey had been increasing ties with Russia with new energy deals and was aiming to increase its geopolitical leverage while covering its increasing energy deals by having pipelines through its territory. Israel had legal framework and anti-trust problems to overcome which might slow down further exploration and export: this was probably a game-slower, not a game-killer. In Cyprus, 6 off-shore blocks had been licenced, the Turkish vessel Barbaros had been exploring inside the Cyprus EEZ, leading to the breaking off of inter-communal talks, and there were concerns about Total's position. The Alaska model offered one way of handling potential energy profits.

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