By Robert M Cutler
MONTREAL - The European Commission (EC) last week took the unprecedented step of requesting and receiving authority from the European Council to assist in negotiations between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Specifically, the EC has received a formal mandate from the council on the signing of a legally binding agreement for implementation of the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP) project.
TCGP is a proposed submarine pipeline between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan that, if built, would transport natural gas from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to central Europe, circumventing both Russia and Iran.
The authority and mandate from the council result from the most notable of 43 concrete actions listed in the European Union's new energy strategy ranging across all sectors of the energy field (including nuclear, renewable and sustainable energy) and the whole geographic range of its energy partners from neighboring countries to the developing world. (The commission is the executive arm of the EU while the council, comprised largely of the heads of states within the union, serves as the EU's strategic body.)
It is all part and parcel of the EU's international energy strategy adopted earlier this month as a step towards implementation of its earlier adopted "Europe 2020" program.
The particular strategy in play provides that energy agreements with third countries are to be negotiated at the EU level where that is necessary to achieve core EU objectives. The EU's decision effectively recognizes that its member states as well as European energy companies are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the privileged state-owned monopoly trusts of some energy producing and energy exporting countries.
In particular, it signifies the EU's concern at becoming too dependent on Russia following the successful launch of the Nord Stream gas pipeline (Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, projected full capacity 55 billion cubic meters per year, bcm/y) where Gazprom is the only supplier. The South Stream pipeline (under the Black Sea from Russia to Europe, volume and eventual landfall as yet undefined) would likewise engage Gazprom as monopoly supplier.
It is therefore no surprise that the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the EU Council's decision. Its representative, Aleksandr Lukashevich, stated in Moscow that in his government's view, only the riparian countries could solve issues related to activities around the seabed. However, Russia's own activities in the northern Caspian Sea indicate its position is rather disingenuous.
From the standpoint of international law, there is no obstacle to the construction of the TCGP. Suggestions that the agreement of all five Caspian Sea countries is required, ignores the fact that all five of them have undertaken offshore exploration and development without seeking any permission from the others. Since the TCGP would connect Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan directly, it would not be laid across any third party's exclusive economic zone and therefore not need any other country's approval.
The argument, sometimes made also from the Russian and also the Iranian side, that ecological considerations require such multilateral agreement ignores their own failure to hold to international standards in their own energy development programs.
Also, since the last TCGP project failed to come off the drawing-boards in the late 1990s, the technologies available for insuring pipeline integrity have greatly developed as the leading companies in the field have done further research and development and acquired additional experience, successfully executing other technically more difficult projects.
The feasibility study for the older TCGP project had already established that there was no technical or topographical complication to prevent implementation of the project and the physical laying of the pipe along the undersea ridge from Turkmenistan's port of Turkmenbashi to Azerbaijan's Absheron Peninsula. This ridge divides the Caspian Sea into its deeper southern and shallower northern halves.
Russia succeeded in blocking a previous incarnation of the TCGP a dozen years ago, when US companies were the most heavily involved in the project, as opposed to the present day when they are European. It did so by getting the Turkish government of the day to agree to the Blue Stream pipeline between the two countries under the Black Sea.
Since then, Blue Stream has proven to be something of an economic white elephant and has failed to live up to expectations. However, it achieved Moscow's political ends. The Kremlin's touting of the South Stream pipeline against the Nabucco project is an attempt to update that script.
Twelve years ago, the EU was weaker and its leaders were upset that so soon after the end of the Cold War, the US was trying to fill the diplomatic vacuum in the South Caucasus and Central Asia created by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Europeans at that time harbored the illusion that a grand partnership with Russia was possible, and they feared that the Americans would just muck things up by antagonizing the Kremlin.
A series of wintertime cut-offs of Russian gas to Europe over the past decade changed the Europeans' minds. Even at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had always honored gas purchase and supply agreements to Europe in the energy sector.
The argument that the TCGP requires special consideration because than one country is involved in the project ignores the successful bilateral offshore cooperation in energy exploration and development between Russia and Kazakhstan in the northern Caspian offshore. That Russia-Kazakhstan cooperation followed the bilateral agreement between the two countries under established provisions of international law, including delimitation of national sectors.
But even the delimitation of national sectors in the Caspian Sea is not necessary for Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to proceed. All they need to do is to agree to agree, and then proceed.
In the North Sea, the United Kingdom and Norway proceeded on the basis of mutual declarations that their project-specific cooperation did not signify their abrogation of disputed territorial claims, a purely technical legal issue to be resolved separately when the parties decide to pursue it. Exactly the same formula may easily apply to the Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan situation.
In short, there is no obstacle to the successful conclusion and implementation of a TCGP agreement besides the political will of the parties involved. The EU's new resolve comes rather late in the game but still can determine the outcome....
- La France emprunte 1 milliard d 'euros par jour ouvrable aux marchés.....
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- Les intérêts sur la dette publique s'élèvent à ce jour à 1444 milliards d'euros (lien : http://www.societal.org/dette/interets.htm )
Avec le Mossadnik Nicolas Sarkozy....La dégradation de la note du pays, n'est qu'une question de temps....