Václav Bartuška - Europe must stop taking energy supplies for granted

Václav Bartuška

The dispute between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas couldn’t have been more timely for the Czech EU Presidency, which has made energy security one of its three priorities for its six months in charge of the European Union. The Czech Republic is holding a number of conferences on energy security, one of which – on the electricity market – took place last week in Ostrava. On the fringes of the conference we caught up with the Czech Republic’s ambassador at large for energy Václav Bartuška, and asked him why the Czechs had chosen energy.

“We put a lot of money and thought and investment and work in energy security long before it became fashionable. In the 1990s we started to build major pipelines to the west and started buying natural gas from Norway, so it’s not a new thing for us. So two years ago, when we were planning our presidency, we looked around Europe and looked for fields which we thought were underrepresented, and energy seemed to us a natural choice.”

Your timing was certainly impeccable – did the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis change anything for the Czech presidency?

“It helped us a lot with I would say the public relations effort, definitely, and I’m very thankful to the Kremlin and Kiev for organising this, so, so well. That being said, I don’t think we should be that much influenced that much by single crises, be they with Russia or in future with some other countries. We should really think in the long term, not what happened last week. That would always leave us just chasing events, not actually being ahead of it.”

It seems the real obstacle is money – we can talk about diversification and building new pipelines and so on, but countries have to pay for them. How are you going to get them to do that?

“No, no. We have a saying in Czech – who wants, looks for ways to do it, who doesn’t want, looks for reasons not to do it. And I think that’s very precise. If we find that we need to interconnect Europe, to be better able to withstand future crises, we will find the money, I’m pretty sure about that.”

It’s an expensive business though isn’t it?

“Is it? Really? When we started to buy Norwegian gas in 1997, the press quickly dubbed it ‘expensive Norwegian gas’. Well, guess what, it was the only gas that entered our country during the crisis in January this year. I don’t think it was really expensive, when it was the only one. So, energy, the warmth of our houses, the gasoline for our cars, the electricity for our lights – this is something we take for granted. Once you start to realise that we could have serious shortages of any of these, those investments don’t look particularly daunting I would say.”