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European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner and European Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs met representatives of the Mashreq countries (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria), Iraq and Turkey on Monday in Brussels to discuss improving energy security in the region and in the EU, especially by deepening cooperation on natural gas.
The meeting was supposed to support finalization of the Arab gas pipeline, promote its role as a future supplier of the Nabucco project and encourage the full participation of Iraq in regional energy activities, including as a partner in the Arab gas pipeline.
The Arab gas pipeline currently runs from Egypt through Jordan to Syria. It has a capacity of 10 billion cubic meters per year. The pipeline, which will be interconnected with Turkey and Iraq by 2009, will provide a new transport route for gas resources from the Mashreq region to the EU. It is expected that, in the future, the pipeline will be connected with the Nabucco project.
During the meetings, discussions focused on prospects for reinforcing the existing cooperation through the Euro-Arab Mashreq gas center in Damascus. The Euro-Arab Mashreq gas center, which benefits from technical assistance provided by the European Commission, has been working since 2006 on the development of a regional market for natural gas in the Mashreq, with the objective of its progressive integration with the EU gas market. The center has also provided support to the ongoing work on the completion of the Arab gas pipeline.
The meeting was a follow up to the EU-Middle East-Africa Energy Conference co-hosted by the European Commission and Egypt in November 2007 in Sharm E-Sheikh. The Euro-Mashreq gas initiative is one of the activities within Euro-Med energy cooperation that is under way within the framework of the Barcelona Process. The Euro-Med energy ministers conference that took place in Limassol, Cyprus, last December agreed on a priority action plan for 2008-2013, which outlined harmonization of regional energy markets as one of the key activities.
The European Commission is also strengthening bilateral energy cooperation with the countries in the region. A memorandum of understanding on energy partnership has been finalized with Egypt and is under discussion with Iraq. A joint declaration on energy cooperation between the European Commission and Jordan was signed last October and is now being implemented.
The need for a coherent and coordinated external policy for energy in Europe is imperative, particularly in an environment of rising oil and gas prices, and strongly growing global energy demand. This is especially true at a time when Europe's energy imports are increasing rapidly. The recent energy supply crises have highlighted Europe's growing dependency on external sources of energy. Energy policy security and climate change security have ceased to be abstract ideas; they are two sides of the same coin.
In this context, the European Council called for an energy policy for Europe and invited the Commission and the Council to prepare a set of actions with a clear timetable enabling it to adopt a prioritized action plan at its meeting in March 2007. The external aspects of energy security would constitute an important part of such an overall policy and would need to be included within the action plan.
In January 2007, the European Commission proposed a comprehensive package of measures to establish a new energy policy for Europe to combat climate change and boost the European Union's energy security and competitiveness. The Commission's proposals were endorsed by the Council at its meeting in Brussels in March 2007 and a comprehensive energy action plan for 2007-2009 was adopted.
According to the action, "The development of a common approach to external energy policy has to be speeded up, by involving consumer-to-producer as well as consumer-to-consumer and consumer-to-transit countries, dialogues and partnerships." It also outlines the essential elements for developing the common voice of the EU in external energy policy.
Ari Syrquin is the head of the International Department at GSCB Law Firm.
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