Worries about its over-reliance on Russian gas are pushing the EU to find new suppliers, and this week the bloc launched a charm offensive on gas-producing Caspian states. The FT reports:
“I think that Europe has really got tired of each summer having a discussion of how to make it through the next winter. The world’s biggest economy should not have such concerns in the 21st century,” [Maros Sefcovic, European Commission vice-president heading up the EU’s energy union project] said in an interview with the Financial Times in the run-up to Wednesday’s announcements. Russia would remain a “very important supplier” for the EU but its influence would lessen, he said.Since taking on his portfolio late last year, Mr Sefcovic has prioritised the $45bn “southern corridor” pipelines that will bring gas into southeastern Europe from the Caspian Sea region and potentially the Middle East. The final section of this network will be the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, partly owned by BP, which will run to Italy and is due to provide Europe with 10bn cubic metres of Azeri gas by 2020.
There’s plenty of gas in and around the Caspian Sea—Turkmenistan is reported to have the world’s fourth-largest reserves—but the tricky part will be securing delivery of those supplies to Europe. The first leg of the proposed route already exists, and would transport gas from the region through Azerbaijan and Armenia into Turkey, but there’s still a lot to construct before the gas starts to flow, including a stretch across the length of Turkey and a final segment into Italy called the Trans-Adriatic pipeline (TAP); local environmental concerns may complicate that plan.Russia remains the biggest obstacle for this strategy, as it can be expected to guard its market share in Europe jealously. Moscow is insisting that any kind of “southern corridor” project can only go ahead if every stakeholder approves, and it certainly has skin in this game. The initial supplies this pipeline would bring are small when compared to Russian contributions, but the construction of another land route for natural gas into Europe would undoubtedly run counter to the Kremlin’s strategic interests in the region.The earliest anyone expects any of this to be completed is a good five years out, so we’re not talking about quick fixes to Europe’s reliance on Russia. It’s clear, however, that the conflict in Ukraine has Brussels more concerned than ever with energy diversification.