14. 7. 2015 23:35

Energy Union essential to sustain the EU’s energy security

On 14 July 2015, Prime Minister Sobotka attended the energy conference “Geopolitics, Energy and Central Europe: what next?”.
On 14 July 2015, Prime Minister Sobotka attended the energy conference “Geopolitics, Energy and Central Europe: what next?”.
On Tuesday 14 July 2015, on the occasion of the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Minister for Industry and Trade Jan Mládek attended the energy conference “Geopolitics, Energy and Central Europe: what next?” in Brussels. The conference was organised by the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the European Union in collaboration with MEPs elected for the Czech Republic.

In his address, the Prime Minister stressed that energy had long been an issue of prime importance, and in this respect joint coordination in strengthening the European Union’s energy security was essential.

I very much appreciate how the European Commission, and personally Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, have approached the Energy Union. The European Commission’s proposal is comprehensive, ambitious and focuses on the main challenges facing the Union. We fully support the European Commission’s plans, and during the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group we will push for these plans to be put successfully into practice,” said Prime Minister Sobotka.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka’s address at the conference “Geopolitics, Energy and Central Europe: what next?”

Vice-President,
Members of the European Parliament,
Panellists, Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to welcome you to this energy conference. I also welcome you to the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group. It is no coincidence that the topic is energy, nor that we are here in the European Parliament. Energy and energy security have long been issues of paramount importance; the European Parliament is a key institution, without which it would be impossible to pursue a successful EU energy policy. Furthermore, we would like to repay a certain debt – we would like to see a stronger link between the activities of the Visegrad Group and the European Parliament.

The European energy sector is currently facing several challenges at once. In recent years, we have witnessed instability and crises on our borders. The rise of the Islamic State and the crisis in Ukraine have shown that the European Union is not an isolated island and that it is directly affected by the unstable situation. This holds particularly true for the security of our energy supply. Ever since the gas crises in 2006 and 2009, we have known that energy security is not automatic and that a lot of effort is required to safeguard it. In this regard, we have cause for a certain pride – just look how far we, as the European Union, have come in the space of a few years and how much work we have done.

In 2009, the crisis triggered problems in the supply of natural gas to certain EU Member States, but in 2015 we have what it takes to redirect gas flows, via the intra-European network, to markets at risk of outage.

Besides that pride, however, I also feel committed – this journey is by no means at an end. More than ever, we need to stick together, to speak with one voice and to deepen our mutual cooperation. The European Union must strengthen its energy security at all costs and be prepared for possible geopolitical fluctuations. That is partly why, in Europe, we espouse the formation of the Energy Union. “I very much appreciate how the European Commission, and personally Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, have approached the Energy Union. The European Commission’s proposal is comprehensive, ambitious and focuses on the main challenges facing the Union. We fully support the European Commission’s plans, and during the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group we will push for these plans to be put successfully into practice.

Energy security, as a key component of the Energy Union, is certainly not merely synonymous with the security of gas supply. On the contrary, the concept of energy security is much broader and also includes the aspects of energy affordability and sustainability. I applaud the fact that the Commission’s proposals reflect this complexity.

The European Union aspires to spearhead the process of decarbonisation and the use of renewable energies. Yet if we want to decarbonise, effectively combat global climate change, and at the same time safeguard the security of the electricity network, we must make efficient use of all of the low-emission sources at our disposal, including nuclear energy, which for some countries is a vital resource in this regard. The transition to low-carbon energy must be cost-effective and follow market principles, and must not ultimately spawn the danger of the compromised production and security of energy supply.

To be able to withstand all these challenges, it is essential for Europe to stick together and cooperate in the pursuit of its goals. History shows that cooperation in the energy sector is a mainstay of trust between partners. For that matter, the process of European integration started out as a project on the joint use of energy resources in the then European Coal and Steel Community. Cooperation in one area then naturally grew into deepening cooperation in other sectors of the economy. Hence I believe that cooperation in the creation of the Energy Union will provide us with a response to the challenges of our time. This cooperation must also be based on regional cooperation.

I am very glad, then, that the Czech Republic is to preside over the Visegrad countries at this time. Collaboration between the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia shows that there is a long line of areas that connect us to each other: shared historical experiences, similar lifestyles, geographic proximity and location, and similar economic and social challenges. In many respects, this is also true in the energy sector – and here, too, Visegrad cooperation is bearing fruit. Our meeting ahead of the European Council last October – where we discussed the European Union’s 2030 climate and energy framework – even showed that our group not only unites us, but is also capable of overlapping and can also work well in an extended format. In this light, I am very much looking forward to the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group in that it is coming at a time when the European Union is aspiring to radical change in energy policy by creating the Energy Union. Sterling cooperation in dealing with energy issues is one of the key priorities of the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group.

We are at the stage where we have drawn the contours – dimensions – of the Energy Union, which we now need to flesh out. In this regard, I would like to dwell on how to contribute to a well-run Energy Union against the background of Central Europe’s geopolitics and energy sector, which is, after all, also the title of today’s conference.

The geography of the Visegrad Group predestines the security of energy supply to be one of our countries’ enduring priorities. Above all, we need to develop and strengthen our infrastructure. This will require the mobilisation of private and public resources, whether from the European Union or from individual Member States. We also need to pull the levers that exist for this purpose within Europe.

The completion of the North-South Gas Corridor, which will consolidate energy security in our region and beyond, has long been a priority for Central Europe. However, we cannot rely solely on large, cross-border infrastructure projects. To ensure our energy security, it will be equally important for us all to be steadfast in doing our homework – this applies only to the Visegrad countries, but also to the whole of the European Union. In the gas sector, we need to have the necessary reserves, endeavour to improve cross-border supply opportunities and, where appropriate, build infrastructure that will ensure access to alternative supplies, not only within the EU, but also from third countries. In the electricity sector, we need to ensure the adequacy of production and sufficiently develop a transmission system able to cope with the demands of integrating renewable energy sources into the energy market. We should also focus on setting up effective cross-border interconnections.

This brings me to another element vital to increase energy security: solidarity. The time when nation states were separate islands is gone. The era of globalisation and integration in Europe requires individual states, in their decision-making, to take into account what cross-border overlaps their decisions will have. For energy, this is doubly true. Solidarity is not just about helping others in an emergency. It cannot be separated from the responsible behaviour of which I have spoken. By considering the needs of others when we take decisions on an issue as strategic as energy undoubtedly is, we are showing a spirit of solidarity. To be able to act, to be responsible and show solidarity, we must engage in sufficient communication with each other, share information with each other, and be transparent and mutually trusting.

The idea of mutual trust is ultimately also the main theme of the Czech Presidency of the Visegrad Group. The history of Visegrad cooperation to date is clear proof that mutual trust benefits all parties. As a result, we know that we have friends to whom we can turn. At the same time, however, there is the commitment for us also to be trusted partners.

Visegrad trust is based on open exchanges of views and informal, multifaceted contact. Nevertheless, that contact must not be limited to the axis of our capital cities. All Visegrad countries are members of the European Union, hence collaboration here, too, within the European institutions is absolutely paramount. In this context, I would also like to turn to members of the European Parliament and urge you, to the fullest extent possible, to avail yourselves of the opportunities offered to you by Visegrad cooperation. Let’s view each other as regional partners who can join forces to fight for the interests of our citizens. European integration is a project that, for more than sixty years, has helped Europe to maintain peace and prosperity. I am convinced that the cornerstone of European cooperation is regional cooperation. In this regard, the countries of the Visegrad Group try to lead by example.

The question asked by today’s conference is “what next?”. As the country presiding over the Visegrad Group, the Czech Republic will strive for the effective implementation of the Energy Union – the creation of a safe and truly functioning energy market without artificial obstacles, and will base this market on the principles of responsibility, solidarity, trust and transparency. We will also aim for a Energy Union that belongs to us all – the states and the institutions of the EU.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to meet today and openly debate specific steps in pursuit of this goal. This is not just about the V4, but the European Union as a whole. I would therefore like to express the wish for this conference to be an interesting meeting, and I am very much looking forward to its findings, outcomes and recommendations. Thank you for your attention.

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