Vondra: EU needs better contingency planning for next energy crisis

Alexandr Vondra, photo: CTK

Europe's gas crisis has dominated the first week of the Czech EU Presidency –Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek travelled to Ukraine on Friday to help negotiate an end to Ukraine’s dispute with Russia. The security of Europe's energy supplies is one of the Czech presidency's three priorities, and gas dominated talks by EU foreign ministers in Prague. In fact the Czech Republic’s deputy prime minister says Europe must be better prepared to deal with a similar crisis in the future.

Alexandr Vondra,  photo: CTK
Tens of thousands of people – most of them in Central and Eastern Europe – have been left shivering from Russia and Ukraine's dispute over gas supplies; the Czech Republic itself was completely cut off from Russian gas this week, while Slovakia declared a state of emergency, and even recruited the help of neighbouring Poland, which has been bringing in natural gas on lorries. Speaking after a day of meetings with EU foreign ministers in Prague, deputy prime minister Alexandr Vondra told reporters this was a fine example of Europeans helping each other out in times of crisis, but said the EU must be better prepared if the taps are suddenly turned off again in the future.

“Unfortunately we are not very well prepared for that. So we need to elaborate the mechanism how we would have the contingency planning for situations like this, before we would have a better infrastructure inside the EU to fix those troubles.”

Many in Europe would like to see the sort of solidarity shown by Poland to Slovakia enshrined in a more formal framework – indeed one of the clauses of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty emphasises the need for solidarity in the field of energy. Alexandr Vondra again.

Photo: CTK
“Well, there are two ways of solidarity. There’s solidarity as a political principle, and it should be a guiding principle for all EU members in times of crisis, with or without the Lisbon Treaty, and that’s the situation where we are right now. Certainly, the Lisbon Treaty, once it enters into force, has some means of further enhancing of that cooperation including in the area of energy. So if you want to have a sentence on whether the Lisbon Treaty can contribute to better cooperation in that particular field – I can tell you Yes.”

The Czech Republic, of course, hasn’t ratified the Lisbon Treaty yet so it’s something of a moot point. But it's not just contingency plans for future emergencies – the Czech EU Presidency wants long-term solutions for Europe's energy security needs, something laid down in its priorities for the next six months. A statement released after Thursday's informal talks said the EU would speed up work on a number of initiatives, including linking up more gas pipelines within Europe.