Although the short-term emergency arrangements with Hungary and Germany prevented big-scale power and heating outages in Serbian households, the Serbian economy continues to suffer losses due to gas shortages. The gas crisis proved that the opponents to the energy deal were right, since the arrangement has neither secured domestic energy supplies, nor has it contributed to the prosperity of Serbia's economy as announced by President Tadic. The Serbian government will find it harder to justify the bargain sale of the majority stake in the Serbian national oil company.
Europe's concept of energy security seems to be focused on the steadiness of energy supplies, not so much on the diversification of its energy sources. The current crisis is yet another reminder that Europe needs to develop a common energy strategy and that steady supply can only be guaranteed through the diversification of its sources. The energy debate needs to be depoliticized: Instead of taking sides and engaging in short-term political trade-offs, the EU ought to develop a long-term common strategy based on commercial principles. In microeconomics, supply chain diversification does not only imply lower prices due to increased competition between suppliers, but it also prevents firms from incurring high switching costs and it ensures steady business operations and cash flows. With more than 80 percent of their gas imports from Russia, some European countries severely violate this fundamental business rationale.
Alternative sources of fossil energy inevitably draw the attention to the Caucasus, Central Asia and Iran. While Iran has been on the EU's radar screen for some time, the Caucasus and Central Asia has been a neglected European backyard. The importance of the Caucasus for Europe's energy security is not solely related to Azerbaijan's oil and gas reserves. The entire region will become a major transit corridor of energy supplies from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and eventually Iran.
The European Neighborhood Policies (ENP) towards the individual countries in the region were half-hearted commitments to the Caucasus. Ironically, it needed a full-scale military conflict between Russia and Georgia for the EU to realize the importance of the region for its overall security including energy. The EU's relations with the countries in the Caucasus have been upgraded in form of the recently introduced Eastern Partnership within the auspices of ENP. However, this new initiative is just a compromise resulting from the objection of some EU member states in NATO to grant MAP to Georgia and Ukraine. Although it creates a link between ENP and potential EU membership, the arrangement does not provide any security guarantees. A "European NATO-light version", so to speak.
The frequency of high-level visits by officials to the region indicates that the EU finally made up its mind to devote more attention to its own outskirts. Hitherto, the EU policies towards the region have been reactive in nature. The successful integration into Euro-Atlantic security system requires more than merely extending MAP or institutionalizing new forms of cooperation with the countries in the region in response to political events. More than the form, it is the content of NATO's and the EU's relations with the countries that will ensure regional stability and steady energy supplies to Europe. If the EU takes its own energy security seriously, it should adopt a more pro-active regional approach. It is high time to put existing forms of cooperation and beautiful words into action.
Next to increasing financial assistance for regional projects, initiating efforts to establish a free-trade area in the region and promoting cross-border civil society cooperation, the EU should augment its support for international efforts to resolve the separatist conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh since they are the main stumbling blocks for regional integration and security. Furthermore, the EU should finally grant membership to Turkey since it is the most important transit country for European energy supplies from the region, key for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the promotion of regional development and cross-border cooperation.
Ultimately, it is neither about bashing nor about political blame games. It is about children freezing in classrooms in the midst of a harsh winter and the responsibility of governments towards their constituencies.
Sonja Davidovic is a graduate student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Washington DC.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Andreas Umland: The Eu is Helping Moscow's Neo-Imperialists
- Tobias Wolny: Time for a Middle Road In Dealing With Russia
- Jan Rovensky: Bumpy Road Ahead for Czech EU Presidency