While the hopeless, destructive, narcissistic and redder than red Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said maliciously, commenting on President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s attendance of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in late September 2015, that he had “better things to do than go shopping in New York”, Croatia’s President Grabar-Kitarovic was hosting the activation into practice of her initiative and idea for the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea cooperation. The first meeting (convened on the side-lines of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly held at the UN in New York on 29 September 2015) of the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea cooperation forged with the participation of 12 countries at the initiative of Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic decided to maintain this form of cooperation and to hold their next meeting in Zagreb in 2016. The group, comprising of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland and Romania would seem ideally positioned to strategically and effectively shake the rug under the Russian control of gas energy supplies in particular as well as being an ideal circle of states that can bash out the negative and economic progress-stifling remnants of the former communist regimes in that part of the world. It’s important to note that this group is not a new formal political organisation, though, but a frame within which the already existing avenues and networks of cooperation will be channeled in a more focused and concentrated manner in order to achieve the most effective outcomes for the three areas of concern.
The meeting in New York resolved to focus on three areas – energy, transport and telecommunications – and create/develop a Central-European region’s north-south-bound infrastructure in these fields of energy, transport and digital communication, through joint action for the acquisition of EU funds and talks.
Furthermore and with regards to the suffocating refugee crisis Europe is currently hit by and politically buckling under, the meeting reached a palpable consensus to pursue the line which insists that Europe alone cannot be solely responsible to solve the crisis but that it is a global matter and call for a global response.
“The Baltic states can set a perfect example for the Adriatic and Black Sea regions of how to strengthen regional cooperation and create a common market in the context of economic and administrative reforms,” said the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevicius. According to the head of the Lithuanian diplomacy, the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Sea regions have many opportunities to deepen their political cooperation and to coordinate actions more closely, in particular in the fields of energy and transport: exchanging experiences in diversifying energy supplies, creating an integrated European energy market and more actively developing the North-South Transport Corridor.
On 8th/9th October 2015 Croatia’s president Grabar-Kitarovic attended in Belatonfured, Hungary, as special guest the meeting of the heads of states of the Visegrad V4 Group (The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). Topics discussed at this high-level meeting included migration, climate change, energy, security and stability in the South-East Europe area. President Grabar-Kitarovic emphasised that the acceptance of linked goals in sustainable development from the climate change agenda achieved in New York for the post-2015 period was a significant step forward. She said that energy-related connections between the countries in the Group was mutually beneficial and that energy efficiency and energy independence were important elements of national security and political stability of every country, its economy and its citizens’ standard of living.
“With the building of the LNG terminal on the Island of Krk and our linking with the Visegrad group countries, but also within the framework of the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea initiative, which I have recently presented, we would secure not only the energy independence for our countries but also the political and economic ones and thus shield our countries from possible manipulations such as the closures of gas supplies or the manipulation with pricing,” stated Grabar-Kitarovic.
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 accelerated and underscored the need for the EU to do more to safeguard energy supply to Europe, which relies on Russia for about a third of its gas, almost half of which is piped via Ukraine. Under the European Commission initiative on Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European Gas Connectivity (CESEC), the countries will also focus on making the best use of existing infrastructure by allowing reverse flows. Projects, such as the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which is set to bring gas from Azerbaijan to Europe, an LNG terminal on island of Krk, Croatia, and system reinforcement in Bulgaria and Romania, have been identified as top priorities.
LNG Croatia has extended its deadline to year-end for bid submissions from equity investors to build its import terminal on Krk Island. The company has extended the deadline from December 15 to December 31, “in agreement with the European Commission at the request of companies for which the LNG business is not a primary one”.
LNG Croatia’s planned €600 million, 1.6-2.4 million tonne a year LNG terminal has been designated a strategic investment project, supplying gas to EU member states in the Central Eastern Europe, South Eastern Europe and beyond, to reduce reliance on piped Russian gas. LNG Croatia plans to start construction next summer, for completion in 2019.
It has been said over and over again that it is unlikely Europe could significantly reduce its overall dependence on Russian gas any time before 2030 for both existing contractual and supply/demand reasons. While contracts are legally binding the latter is particularly an interesting aspect of this unhappy relationship defined by dependency, alternative sources for gas can be developed particularly for countries in the Baltic region, Central East Europe and Central South Europe that are wholly or heavily dependent on Russian gas. Europe has spent years trying to wriggle free from its dependence on Russian energy and the whims of its volatile president, Vladimir Putin. So, having in mind the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Group developments one needs to ask why is the continent considering signing up for a new gas pipeline that will keep Europe hostage to Russian energy shenanigans and outright blackmail for decades to come? The agreement revealed at the beginning of September 2015 between Russia’s Gazprom PJSC and European companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc, EON AG and Engie to expand the Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea (designed to shift gas into Western Europe), completely neglects and defies the interests of Eastern Europe and in particular the fact that Poland and Slovak leaders have called this deal a betrayal to European unity! Russia’s multi-billion-dollar plans to expand the capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany seem to be taking shape faster than most observers expected — and stand in stark contrast to the bevy of other stillborn energy projects Russia keeps announcing. In conclusion, it seems clear that there is a front of western companies willing to push forward the expansion of the pipeline connecting Russia with Germany, while politicians and companies from Eastern Europe are ready to equally table their requests and a push for locating new sources of gas within the EU geographical span. The interests of Western and Eastern European blocks are clearly diverging. If not carefully handled, that could be a problem, especially in a moment where migrations and complex geopolitical moves seem to already be fracturing Europe. The Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Group initiative seems to have given the Eastern European block new stronger wings in the pursuit of achieving independence from Russian gas supplies and may indeed be a factor that will help slow down if not thwart Nord Stream 2 project and turn the European companies into exploring new sources of gas on the continent rather than tightening ties with Russia. Of course, it all depends how strong the political resolve is in the EU to actually phase out its dependence on Russian gas. If the resolve is high and real we will perhaps see more LNG terminals across Europe mushroom, lifting up local economies in the process.
The pathway to reducing or phasing out dependence on Russian gas is precisely dotted with new LNG terminals and pipeline connections and the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has scored an enormously positive mark in this by initiating the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Group. And yes, she did go shopping in New York: shopping for stronger cooperation between countries affected by energy dependence on Russia. No wonder Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic – a die-hard communist idealist who keeps his government’s sights fixated at mollycoddling Russia rather than looking more Westward – didn’t like the President’s latest visit to New York! Perhaps Croatia will score an even more positive mark in the upcoming general elections on 8 November and vote the incompetent Social Democrats out of government. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)