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Conflict or cooperation: the dynamics of energy in South-Eastern Europe

South-Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranian combine coexisting strategic interests by all major superpowers – the United States, the EU and China – which raise the question of whether energy generates security dilemmas or rather cooperation in the region.

Talking about the emerging influence of China, in the framework of the Athens Energy Dialogues, Nikos Tsafos, Deputy Director & Senior Fellow at the Energy Security and Climate Change Program Centre for Strategic and International Studies said that we cannot see it as a binary question.

“China is an economic and increasingly geopolitical power […]. The goal is not to turn China away but to make sure that it plays by the rules,” he said, adding that doing so requires both vigilance and oversight.

According to Mr Tsafos, although American funds haven’t been channelled to an extent to counterbalance China’s growing influence, the European Union is willing to allocate money to the region with the Green Deal and the promise that it holds for countries to tap into large pools of finance to accelerate the energy transition.

Theodoros Tsakiris, Associate Professor for Energy Policy and Geopolitics at the University of Nicosia pointed out that hydrocarbons per se do not generate conflict and they actually act as a catalyst or multiplier of preexisting geopolitical dynamics. This can be said of the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“The discovery of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranian has generated – as a catalyst, not as a root cause – both cooperation and conflict,” said Mr Tsakiris adding that the establishment of the EastMed Gas Forum is a clear manifestation of cooperation.

Supply security is a historically important aspect of energy politics in the region that can drive conflict and cooperation. The EU’s envisioned carbon neutrality will also impact the perception of supply security. According to Mariana Liakopoulou, Research Fellow for Energy Security at the NATO Association of Canada, the gas decarbonisation will enhance supply security outlook in the region due to the domestic generation of green gases but the external dimensions of supply security are not set to disappear.

“It will prompt the region to sustain external relations with key gas suppliers seeking to boost regional pipeline trading green gases via repurposed gas links over the whole new class suppliers ranging from typical oil and gas transit states like Belarus and Ukraine, which may assume hydrogen or biomethane exporting roles or other emerging suppliers like North African states,” said Ms Liakopoulou.

In this way, regional cooperation will facilitate the exchange of know-how and best practice in terms of regulation policies and governance models.

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