Slovenia hosts Caspian Outlook conference

The Caspian Basin with its enormous energy reserves is strategically important to the EU - and especially to central Europe. Just how important was revealed when the Caspian Outlook conference was held in Slovenia this week. OPEC, NATO, Southern Caucasus countries and energy firms were all represented. Ksenija Samardzija Matul has more:

The Caspian region is gaining in strategic importance for Europe due to its rich energy sources. The Caspian outlook 2008 conference tried to find answers to some of the questions concerning the EU's future policy towards the region. Keynote speaker at the opening of the conference was Ilham Aliyev President of Azerbaijan, who stressed the importance of the conference:

"I think it is a very good initiative and the issue discussed in the framework of the forum will play a very important role in the coming years."

The Caspian is already the fourth biggest source of energy for the EU and it will probably play an even greater role in the future, this is also true for Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev:

"Our policy of open doors - support for foreign investments - led to the fact that today more than 20 billion dollars were invested in Azerbaijan from outside and energy resources of the Caspian are already flowing to European and world markets."

The participants of the conference agreed that, with its reserves of oil and gas, the Caspian region will play a key role on European and global energy markets. However, the region is still unstable and for Europe it is important that democratic reforms continue, as Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel stated:

"Europe's energy security looks increasingly unpredictable as demand is outpacing existing supply and domestic capacity is on the decline. The prerogative is to develop the Caspian region into a transparent, stable and competitive energy partner."

Those participating in the conference stressed that Russia - the biggest supplier of gas to the EU - plays a key role in Europe's energy security. Carl Bildt, former Swedish Prime Minister, said that Gazprom's monopoly on the gas market and insufficient investment raise concerns about the efficiency of Russian supplies. It is therefore especially important to focus on the Caspian, which could cover 10% of Europe's energy demands. It was also agreed on that democratic institution building and the rule of law, as well as fighting terrorism and organised crime, are key issues in the development of the region. Yet according to Rupel the question remains, how to motivate these countries to undertake the necessary reforms since the EU does not have bold plans for enlargement.