'Riga Process' plans European Energy Union

People from the energy industry, regulators and politicians congregated in Riga Friday to draw up plans for a projected 'European Energy Union' to redraw the way energy is bought, used and paid for within the 28-member bloc.  

Opening the conference, Latvian Economics Minister Dana Reizniece-Ozola said: "Successful establishment of the energy union is one of the main priorities of the Latvian presidency," though the levels of complexity and bureaucracy involved will ensure the project is likely to last far longer than the five months remaining of the Latvian EU Presidency.

The EU was faced by a "trilemma" in its desire to achieve secure, sustainable and affordable energy, Reizniece-Ozola said.

She was followed onto the stage of the National Library by European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič who said the current situation in which oil and gas prices were falling offered a breathing space for the EU to sort out its Energy Union plans.

"We should not just talk about it, it's high time to act and we have to use the political momentum that was gathered over the last few years," he said.

"Sometimes you might have the question: do we really need the Energy Union when we see that oil prices are falling so heavily over the last six months? My answer is 'Yes, of course we do, because we are kind of lucky that we can use this development to our advantage'."

"We should use this breathing space with low oil and gas prices  as a golden opportunity to re-set our energy policies in the right direction and to take the necessary investment now."

Šefčovič also said that while paying more than €1bn per day for its energy supplies the EU needed to do more to wean itself off Russian supplies.

"We are very much dependent on one dominant supplier, Russia, when it comes to oil, when it comes to gas and in this country you are very much dependent on cooperation with Russia also in the field of electricity."

"Therefore we must make sure that if we have such an important partner, the relationship is balanced, the prices are fair and that we also have other options for our trading and our energy security."

"We need to underline that we need an Energy Union with a strong solidarity clause," Šefčovič said. 

The European Commission will "fine tune" its proposals taking into account "what is starting to be known in Brussels as the Riga Process" and present them "by the end of February" Šefčovič said.

His words were immediately echoed by EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete who said:

"We must be serious about reducing our reliance on Russia, Gazprom being the only supplier holding a dominant position in the European Union markets."

New agreements were necessary with alternative suppliers and strategic partner including Norway, Turkey and Ukraine, Canete said.

"Achieving energy union will require action at all levels of society... energy union will not be a mere reformation of what we already do... it is a commitment to fundamental and lasting change," he added.

The conference can be watched live throughout Friday here

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