Eastern Partnership (2)
Delivered in Plenary - 12th March 2009
As two of my colleagues are not in the Chamber, I am availing myself of the time to say a couple of extra words on this issue, which is so vital to the immediate external priorities of the European Union in the coming years.
I want to congratulate the Commission on its initiative on the issue of making energy security one of the prime objectives for dialogue and for the political agenda. External energy security policy is vital. We saw the recent spat between Ukraine and Russia and the downstream effects it had on consumers in countries as far afield as Bulgaria and Slovakia.
It is important to remember that a number of the countries of the six concerned – such as Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia – are key transit countries. There are also producers – like Azerbaijan and the Caspian gas and oil fields. There is potential for a trans-Caspian link to central Asia which, as you know, Commissioner, is dear to my heart, and I have always been an advocate of further rapprochement with Kazakhstan. It is important that we maintain stability in the Caspian region and also diversify away from over-dependence on gas supplies from Russia, and in particular Gazprom, which is often used as a sort of branch of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
I have to say also, with some regret, that while the Eastern Partnership is great for the countries of the South Caucasus – although it remains to be seen whether they can also integrate more regionally, rather than just enjoy bilateral relations with Brussels – it does not bring much that is new for countries like Ukraine. Such countries already have access to free trade agreement negotiations, with the issue of visa facilitation on the table, along with participation in the CFSP and the SDP. There is nothing much new for Ukraine, I am sorry to say, but it is great for the other countries.