RuBaltic.Ru has discussed the political situation in Europe and the EU energy policy with MEP Dario Tamburrano, a member of the Committee on Industry, Reseach and Energy.
- Previously you have called the EU policies towards Russia an "expansive bulimia" and said that they're against common sense. Can you elaborate on that? What did you mean exactly?
To be precise, I didn't use the term "expansive bulimia" to describe the EU policies towards Russia. I used it instead regarding the early Eastern enlargement of the EU towards those countries, which have not already passed the difficult historical period in the USSR, from the social point of view. The Iron Curtain has fallen but still exists in their blood. The Eastern European countries are changing the European agenda towards Russophobia: I'm convinced that a Europe of 15 would not take certain decisions. The European Union was created to process a past, different from that of the former Soviet countries: it was created to overcome the division between winners and losers during the World War II.
After all, it takes some time to absorb history: in Italy, for example, we still struggle after 70 years of metabolizing the contrast between fascists and partisans.
And then, in the European Union, we have already so many people to get to agree with one another... Sometimes it feels like we are in the Tower of Babel. Forcing the process of integration is a mistake: just like the earlier creation of a single currency with its imbalances shows that sooner or later the issues will come to a head.
- How would you characterize the current general situation at the European energy market?
It is too bound by the logic of the market: energy is, however, also a social and political issue (energy independence means political independence). The EU neglects these two fundamental aspects. In addition, the energy market in the EU is still based on a fossil perspective, while fossil fuels are essential only for the transition time towards a society based on renewable energy: therefore it makes no sense to invest in new pipelines and in new infrastructure dedicated to fossil fuels.
- When Russia scrapped the South Stream project last year, many EU politicians expressed regret and disappointment, yet they were the ones to hamper the project and create obstacles for its implementation. How can you explain such dual policy? Can we say that the European economic interests got overtaken by the political agenda?
Yes, I believe that economic interests were overtaken by the political agenda and by the intention to create a “casus belli”. I also believe that the sanctions against Russia are a double-edged sword and can trigger a vicious circle, which is also contrary to the interests of Europe, from which it will be difficult to get out unless it is stopped immediately. Regarding the South Stream, the reaction of many European politicians made me think of the kid who does the bully until he gets a slap from a guy bigger than him, and then he starts crying.
- Do sanctions against Russia hurt European energy security?
Yes, the sanctions damage European Energy security. The European Commission implicitly admits this. Given that in May it issued a communication on energy security which speaks of the need to prevent and mitigate the risk of interruptions in gas supplies.
The topic was taken up at the beginning of winter by another communication from the European Commission on the scenarios that could occur as a result of an interruption of Russian gas supplies
This situation also falls within a scenario already difficult because it is characterized by the volatility of the energy market and the problems of depletion of fossil fuel reserves in vast areas of the planet. In the past these fuel reserves allowed growing energy availability and, therefore, the very existence of the economic growth and globalization model.
- The Baltic States were among the most eager to impose sanctions on Russia, including the calls for freezing important EU-Russia projects. How do you view their position? Is it similar to how Poland tried to torpedo the Nord Stream when it was about to be built?
The problem at the root of certain oppositions and political choices for me are always the same: the Baltic States, as others in Eastern Europe, have not yet metabolized their historical past.
- How much vulnerable does exactly the loss of South Stream leave Europe?
Without South Stream, it all depends on Ukraine, its reliability, its wisdom on political choices, its ability to build good relations between East and West. Ukraine is a hinge country. Will it understand that its geographical position is the key to its prosperity?
For now, Ukraine is not taking advantage of this potential.
- How do you view the Latvian and Estonian LNG terminal projects? What are their chances?
It is understandable and right in a perspective of resilience that Latvia and Estonia do not want to be dependent on a single gas supplier. However, the dependence on the import of fossil fuels is equivalent to the political dependence, and the LNG market will become likely unstable in the near future. A growing number of countries are planning to buy LNG and this will result in higher prices and strong competitions with actors in Asia. For two reasons I do not think it makes sense to invest in infrastructure for fossil fuels. First reason, fossil fuels are not inexhaustible and every day that passes the yield net energy extraction decreases (Energy return over energy invested, EROEI waning); second reason, global warming makes urgent the need to transition quickly to a low or zero carbon energy model.
- Ukrainian president Poroshenko recently said in Switzerland that his country won't need Russian gas in two years. Is it realistic? What are Europe's possibilities to find alternative energy suppliers to replace Russia or even relinquish the dependence on Russian supplies altogether?
I would be surprised if Poroshenko had said something different. Has he explained how he plans to implement this goal in practice? Dreams and propaganda are different from the real world with its many limitations.
At European level, the possibility to find alternatives to Russia depends on: the economic resources available, how much they want and they can invest and the availability (that there is not) to obtain supplies at prices no higher than those paid to Russia now.
There is another consideration. For the moment, the European Union must still depend on a fossil energy supplier. It is better to depend on who has proved reliability for decades rather than opting for unstable alternatives. This is because of political and religious reasons or because they have proven to be subject of destabilization because of being "vassals" of other powers. All these features make them unreliable suppliers and, in turn, make us, Europeans, subject to storms or heavy political and financial influences. In this respect, although in view of business and politics that I do not approve of Mr Berlusconi, but he was not wrong when he wove good relations between Italy and Russia on energy supplies, and surely this was harshly opposed by the Western powers.
- What is your opinion about the "South Stream replacement project" - the Turkish South Stream? Is Europe interested in joining it?
The news are still very fresh. I submitted a written question to the European Commission. It says:
“According to press reports, the Russian gas company Gazprom irrevocably decided that it will take a Turkish route for the gas passage, until now delivered to Europe through the Ukrainian route. Gazprom will do so because it considers Ukraine unreliable. Ukraine is buying less gas than the amount defined by the "Brussels agreements", therefore the pressure in storage tanks is too low to maintain the flow of gas to Europe. Russia warned the EU that within a few years it will have to be able to receive the gas at the border between Greece and Turkey, otherwise it will lose their supplies.”
Now the border between Greece and Turkey is the necessary infrastructure even in the project that does not exist. We ask the Commission: First, if, in the interests of citizens and consumers in Europe, it intends to once again have good trade relations with Russia. Second, how much would it cost to build the infrastructure along the Greek-Turkish border for the distribution of gas, and if this infrastructure would be possible to implement in just two years. Third, how much would energy efficiency measures cost to overlook a quantity of gas equal to the one that now enters in Europe through the Ukrainian route, and if it would be possible to achieve them in just two years.