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Europe's energy policy in the past 50 years has been one of its biggest failures, but the bloc's increased dependency on Russia is pressuring member states to adopt a common strategy, the EU's ambassador to Washington, John Bruton, has said.
The EU only acts when faced with a crisis, is less results-oriented than the US and has trouble selling itself as the world's only "multinational democracy," Mr Bruton said on Wednesday (27 May).
The former Irish prime minister was speaking at a policy debate about Europe's role in the world, organised by the European People's Party, an umbrella party for the centre-right, currently holding the majority of European governments and key positions in EU institutions.
Mr Bruton also used to be the vice-chairman of the EPP before he became the European Commission's envoy to Washington, in 2004.
"Energy policy is one of the big failures of the European Union in the last fifty years, particularly bearing in mind that we started out as a coal and steel community. But our growing dependence on Russia is going to increase the pressure for a common energy policy, to improve the internal grids and have shared arrangements within the European Union," Mr. Bruton said.
The EU executive has been instrumental in developing a common energy policy in the past three years. The policy move gained political momentum after January 2006 when Russia first cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, affecting EU consumers.
Mr Bruton praised the "solidarity" shown by member states in this year's disruption, and said the "political ingredients" were now in place for the energy policy.
His remarks were echoed by Nato's head of the policy planning division, Jamie Shea, who said that it was "not good for Europe to have a situation in the middle of the winter where the eastern half is freezing at minus 25 degrees, while the western half is sunbathing at 25 degrees plus," especially since it was just a matter of linking up the grid and reversing flows in pipelines.
Meanwhile, Russian gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.RTS) threatened a repeat of the supply cuts in the coming winter due to Ukraine's alleged inability to pay for the gas it receives and urged the EU to get involved in finding a solution to the bilateral dispute.
While willing to invest in the modernisation of Ukraine's infrastructure, the EU has shown little interest in paying for the non-transparent gas deals between Kiev, Moscow and murky middlemen.
The explicit reference to energy resources as a foreign policy tool in Russia's latest security strategy—presented two weeks ago—was worrisome, but EU must still engage with its big neighbour, Elmar Brok, a senior MEP, said at the same debate.
He stressed that if adopted, the Lisbon Treaty would further enhance the EU's common energy policy and could alleviate some of the fears eastern European members have towards Russia.
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