Jan Macháček

Hledání

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Czech Business Weekly

CR needs to outflank Russia’s energy grip

22. 01. 2007
Czech energy dependency on Russia still runs at 60 percent or more. That’s more than twice the overall European Union dependency.

No wonder the recent showdown between Belarus and the Kremlin – which temporarily cut off Central Europe’s Druzhba pipeline link to Russian oil – had Czech ministers hurriedly dusting off emergency plans for oil supply alternatives.

The standoff provided the latest good reason why energy security, savings and market liberalization have become hot political topics. Another reason emerged one year ago when a Russian row with Ukraine briefly stopped the westward flow of natural gas. Amid this unstable supply environment, the Topolánek government has now produced a new energy security special envoy to the EU, Václav Bartuška. His function is a new aspect of Czech executive power and it has arisen just as the European Commission has published a special energy report and new recommendations.

Most Czech politicians only refer to our own security when speaking on energy affairs. By now, it should be clear that most of the crucial issues must be seen within the EU dimension. Solving our energy security should be translated as solving the overdependency on Russian oil and gas. But only the EU is big enough to deal with Moscow, which has grown muscular as world oil and gas prices have soared.

Until now, the EU has only dealt with energy liberalization. Energy security was left for each country to attend to internally. This should change. Russia’s energy giants aren’t flexible private companies motivated by profit. They’re state-owned behemoths, controlled by former KGB factions serving Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian policy seems to be this: Exploit the Middle East’s instability and try to form joint ventures (or takeovers) with key Western European private companies and utilities.

The Czech Republic should side with Poland to push the EU into a discussion about a planned Baltic Sea pipeline connecting Germany and Russia. Paradoxically, the Germans, who currently hold the EU presidency, are building this pipeline in the name of “energy security” but for Germany only. It’s also in the Czech interest to form an alliance with Poland in pushing for new oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia that avoid Russian territory.

New recommendations from EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who wants member countries to break up their vertical gas and electricity monopolies, should be welcomed. The commissioner says that more ownership diversity will bring more security.

Energy is indeed part of a country’s lifeblood. So, we should ask, why are politicians not intervening against Czech energy giant ČEZ in its dealings with Russia? By signing a nuclear fuel import deal with Russian company Tvel, ČEZ has increased our dependency on Moscow. We’d do well to keep the nuclear option as an alternative rather than core energy source in line with other European countries.

What’s more, any lingering talk of allowing commercial interests to reroute the IKL oil pipeline from Ingolstadt, Germany, should be given short shrift. The IKL is our sole alternative to the Druzhba link.

And, on a final note, let’s ensure that we shut out Russian state-controlled companies from the ČEZ privatization. It might be legally complicated to do so, but let’s be perfectly clear. Our country’s strategic interests come first. Period.

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