3E Intelligence

I collected a few interesting blogosphere reactions to yesterday’s FT news that the European Commission will restrict Russian access to the European gas- and electricity transmission networks when it will present new proposals for further liberalisation of the energy market on 19 September [see story on EurActiv and original news on the Financial Times].

On the European Tribune blog, Jerome à Paris asks some very pertinent questions about the EU’s liberalisation strategy and the issue of strategic interests:

Of course, the argument will be that markets work only with players that follow the rules, so a distinction can be made between insiders and outsiders. But they won’t get away from the fact that they are explicitly admitting that there can be non-economic considerations given in the management of the energy sector and energy networks. Because what they are claiming is that there can only be negative economic outcomes from such meddling, and no positive outcomes. Except that they seem to acknowledge that there would be a positive impact form Russia. So why don’t we have a policy that allows us to have such strategic benefits from market meddling? How can our strategy be “let’s have no strategy, and let (European) corporations decide what is best for us” if energy is deemed so sensitive?”

International lawyer Robert Amsterdam (one of the lawyers for Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky) is, as usual, very concerned about Russia’s intentions and uses an earlier blog post by Katinka Barysch of the Centre for European Reform to warn against Russian energy imperialism.

Journalist and Caucasus expert Steve LeVine points to Russia’s own “bullying behaviour” in Central Asia and the Caucasus to explain the EU’s attitude and concludes:

Russia has a history of bullying whom it can, and attempting to keep its former colonies under its thumb. The working papers no doubt will go through revisions. But there is no doubt that Europe will adopt some sort of legal mechanism to make it harder for outside countries to buy its energy assets.
How stringent that mechanism is will depend on how convincing Russia is that its treatment of its former Soviet colonies has been an aberration

Last but not least, the final word is for French Le Monde, whose star journalist Frédéric Lemaître a few days ago wrote a brilliant piece on the new European “economic patriotism”. Confronted with huge opaque global investment funds under the control of oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia or China, German Chancellor and other Western leaders are starting to worry about the “countries that are buying up the planet”.

Extract from the Le Monde article:

A sign of the change that has occurred in the last two years: although he seems to deplore the German initiative, the British European trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, envisages creating a “European golden share.” Even the International Monetary Fund is getting into the act. Its next annual meeting in October will focus on sovereign investment funds liable, according to one of its directors, to threaten “global stability.” That’s also the opinion of Morgan Stanley, which deems that the tensions between emerging and developed countries on this question could “undermine globalization.”

    The West will have much to do in order not to be accused of latent racism. The opacity of sovereign funds is no greater than that of hedge and investment funds. And if they are the armed branches of their governments, one could not swear that certain American or European groups do not play an equivalent role in their respective countries. On this issue, the West is consequently on the defensive for good and for certain. That would be normal: for the first time, it’s no longer the West that holds the strings to the stock exchange.” [Translation from French by the TruthOut.org website]

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