European Union Extends Energy Community Southeast to 11 Nations

ATHENS, Greece, December 14, 2004 (ENS) - The European Union reached out today to bring the 11 countries of South East Europe, including Turkey, into an energy and environmental pact that is viewed as a step towards closer integration of the region into a greater Europe.

Meeting in Athens today, ministers and representatives from the 25 EU member states and 11 countries of South East Europe, agreed on the basic principles contained in a text of a treaty to formally establish an Energy Community among them.

The 11 countries involved in the new Energy Community include the recently war-torn Balkans region. They are Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, and Kosovo, which is still under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission, UNMIK.


A former Latvian finance minister, Andris Piebalgs is the first Latvian to serve in the European Commission. Latvia joined the European Union with nine other countries on May 1, 2004. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
"The progressive integration of South East Europe, including Turkey, into the European Union energy markets, on reciprocal conditions in terms of trade and environment, benefits the whole of Europe," said Commissioner Andris Piebalgs of Latvia, who is responsible for energy issues.

The Energy Community will create a single regulatory space for energy in the European peninsula. It will serve the interests of both parties in terms of reinforced security of supply, Piebalgs said.

It will also help South East European countries to address energy poverty issues with the aim of providing power supply to all citizens at an affordable price.

While a number of more detailed issues remain to be resolved, it is expected by all delegations that it will be possible to formally sign the treaty by next summer. The treaty will bring together former enemies Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, as well as the warring regions of the former Yugoslavia, which were in conflict through most of the 1990s.

The treaty is expected to give a strong political signal to South East Europe for further EU integration of other sectors. The aim is to bring national legislation of the member countries in line with EU energy legislation as soon as possible, as a first sectoral integration of policy in line with the longer term full integration of all legal and economic policy.

"A lot of work has been done since the Athens Conference in 2002 and this represents a major step forward in bringing lasting stability and growth to the region, as well as its progressive integration into the European Union," Piebalgs said.

Barroso and Erdogan

The new European Commission President Josť Manuel Barroso of Portugal (left) welcomes Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels. December 12, 2004. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
From the EU viewpoint, the Energy Community will provide energy interconnections with South East Europe and through it to the oil rich Middle East and the Caspian region.

The treaty will end the network isolation of Greece and provide a platform to diversify sources of supply for the European Union.

There are delicate environmental problems to be solved before Caspian and Central Asian oil reserves can be brought to markets in Europe.

The Office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says, "Turkey supports the extraction of the oil and its continuous and secure supply to world markets as well as the economic development and welfare of the Central Asian countries, but the Turkish Straits cannot withstand any further increase in oil shipments."

Every day, an average of 15 large tankers carrying oil, liquified propane gas, and other hazardous cargoes pass through the city of Istanbul, home to over 10 million people, and to some of the most important historical edifices in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage City, the Prime Minister's office says.


Oil tanker navigates the Strait of Istanbul (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
"The passage of more oil will surely increase the risk of accidents, further damaging an already injured environment and probably unintentionally inroduce even more new exotic species carried in by tanker ballast water. The Turkish Straits are not a pipeline and cannot be used as such," the Prime Minister's office says.

"No doubt the international community when thoroughly informed of the dangers brought by the transport of oil on tankers through the Straits will fully share Turkey's serious humanitarian and environmental concerns and support Turkey in her efforts to keep the seas clean and safe and history alive for generations to come."

For South Eastern European countries that have become dependent on external energy sources following the fall of the Soviet Union, the European Community aims to establish stronger regional mechanisms and mutual assistance measures.

In South East Europe, problems with energy supply can have deadly consequences for the population. In this region, the mortality rates are higher over the winter months as compared to deaths in the European Union.

The aim, said Piebalgs, should be to supply power to all citizens at an affordable price. It will mean shifting electricity and fuel price subsidies to targeted assistance to vulnerable groups. Such a shift is possible through the concept of the Public Service Obligations defined in the key electricity and gas EU legislation.

The treaty establishing the Energy Community will be a first step. The Commission said today that success in the energy sector will pave the way to expanding the scope of this treaty into critical infrastructure of all kinds, such as transport and telecommunications, and in other areas.