Article by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on energy security in the “International Herald Tribune”

23.03.2006 - Interview

Energy security – Avoiding conflict over fuel

Energy security will strongly influence the global security agenda in the 21st century. Germany will see a continued increase in its demand for fossil fuel imports despite our efforts to develop renewable energies and improve energy efficiency. The same goes for Europe as a whole, the United States and Asia's major consumers.

Throughout the world, peaceful economic development and energy security are inextricably linked. Energy security involves the security of all stakeholders — producers, transit states and consumers. National efforts alone are inadequate and we must find an alternative to confrontational approaches.

Even if competition increases in the future, we must not allow energy to become the currency of power in international relations. That is the goal of German foreign and security policy in the field of energy.

It plays a vital role in securing our country's energy supply by eliminating one-sided energy dependency, stabilizing unsettled world regions and promoting innovative German energy and climate protection concepts in the international arena.

First and foremost, our policy is one of peace and stability. It aims to recognize in advance and defuse potential disputes arising from conflicts over distribution and access.

The recent gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine demonstrated the negative consequences which a confrontational approach — or, more precisely, a lack of arbitration mechanisms — can have.

Instead, we need a cooperative energy security strategy. During the East-West conflict of the last century, Germany made a significant contribution to the success of the Helsinki process. Confidence was built through dialogue and tensions were reduced. This approach remains relevant in defusing the potential for conflict over energy supplies.

A system of cooperative energy security must promote dialogue among energy producers, consumers, transit states and the private sector. Even exporters have a stake in constant and secure demand and smooth transit.

We do not need to invent such a system from scratch. We in Europe in particular must revitalize and adapt existing forms of energy cooperation.

The Energy Charter, which entered into force in 1998 and has been ratified by more than 40 countries, predominantly in Europe and Asia, sets standards in investment protection, trade and conflict resolution and embraces renewable energies and energy efficiency as key goals.

We have to revitalize the Charter, broaden its influence and win the support of additional states.

As this year's president of the Group of Eight, Vladimir Putin has rightly identified energy security as the central issue of the future.

Russia's ratification of the Energy Charter and the conclusion of the negotiations on this Treaty’s Transit Protocol would therefore be a clear expression of support from Europe's greatest energy provider for a European set of rules.

Germany considers energy cooperation in Europe to be a high priority. The treaty establishing the Energy Community, concluded last year between the European Commission and the states of southeastern Europe, is a crucial factor.

We should extend the Energy Community to other neighbors. We will therefore study carefully with interest the proposal of the European Commission to extend it to states such as Norway, Ukraine and Turkey.

In a system of cooperative energy security, the European Union and its member states must adopt a more powerful approach in their external relations. One priority must be to intensify EU relations with the most important producer, transit and consumer countries and build networks among them.

In view of our great mutual dependency in the area of energy, our chief goal must be the reciprocal opening of markets. The EU Commission, in its recent Green Paper, wisely advocates injecting new momentum into this.

Last but not least, the EU must intensify dialogue with the most important consumer countries. They include the United States, with whom we have not so far engaged in strategic dialogue on energy at the political level.

They also include up-and-coming players such as China and India. Our goal is to convince the new major consumers of the benefits of functioning energy markets, to avoid problems such as misallocation and reduce risk premiums.

Germany will actively contribute to this debate. We have a central role to play thanks to our position at the heart of Europe and our experience with co-operative security systems, as well as our status as a pioneer in the field of energy efficiency and the development of renewable energies.

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