Travelling makes you stop and think. Things that are obvious in Poland and Lithuania are unimaginable in Great Britain. This explains the lack of understanding of Central and Eastern Europe’s concerns about the controversial Nord Stream 2 – writes Wojciech Jakóbik, BiznesAlert.pl’s editor in chief.
Dispute about liberalization
During a discussion at the European Council for Foreign Relations in London I had the pleasure to debate with Kong Chyong, an analyst at the Energy Policy Forum at the University of Cambridge. I summarized Poland’s position on the controversial gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany and the country’s gas policy, while Kong talked about the British gas market and the approach to gas trade.
I focused on describing the differences in how markets developed when it comes to regulations, infrastructure and supply portfolio. I stressed that the British market was fully developed and from a British perspective the question of gas purchases boiled down to looking for an offer with the most attractive price. The situation is quite different on the Central and Eastern European market, which is not fully fledged yet. Until the Northern Gateway is completed that market will not have enough non-Russian gas to achieve the goal of securing at least three alternative gas supply sources. We agreed with my British interlocutor that it meant that from the point of view of the local suppliers, sometimes it is better to sign a more expensive contract, which gives a negotiation advantage in talks with the main supplier, which in case of Poland and the majority of states in the region is Russia’s Gazprom.
Differences appeared when we analyzed the liberalization process of the gas market. The British approach says that it should be done as quickly as possible. The Brits also believe that liberalization should first be about opening new cross-border interconnections and second about ensuring alternative sources of supply. Whereas Poles argue that it is the alternative sources (Northern Gateway) that should be found first and interconnections should come second. This is because of the vicinity of the Russian supplier who wants to saturate the German market with Russian gas via Nord Stream 2 and thus, the logic of the Polish argument goes, may dominate the deliveries using regional interconnections.
Browbeating tactics used by Russian sympathizers
After our discussion, views were exchanged with the participants of the event, who included journalists from the Daily Telegraph and representatives of various embassies, including Cyprus’s. Lawyers from the private law firm RoH Attorneys also came over. They ensured me that the position of Poland presented during the discussion was completely politicized and unreasonable, after which they gave me a book which, in their opinion, offered more truth about the gas market. It turned out that the book was written by employees of the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. When asked whether there was an article on Poland in the book, the scientists replied there was not because our country did not count in international politics. This is how I experienced intimidation from a Russian lobby in London.
It is hard to advance Polish arguments in Great Britain, which is focused on Brexit and which because of its advanced gas market is not concerned about what Gazprom is doing in Europe. At the same time, Brexit and Nord Stream 2 do have one thing in common – they both undermine the point of European integration. The first one encourages other states to leave the EU. The other one shows that energy solidarity may turn out to be empty talk, which has no impact on the energy policy of the EU’s strongest state – Germany, which is pushing the project forward despite its neighbors’ increasing opposition.
Poland and Lithuania see it differently
The situation is different in Lithuania. I had the opportunity to talk with representatives of the defense ministry in Vilnius before a high-level expert panel on the Zapad 2017 military drills in Russia and Belarus in which I will take part. The difference in perceiving Nord Stream 2 and in the approach to gas policy results from the fact that Lithuanians, just like Poles, are experiencing firsthand the political component of this relationship. Only after opening the Klaipeda LNG FSRU did the Lithuanians receive a gas rebate. They are constantly having issues with power supplies via the NordBalt interconnector. Unofficially, the government representatives admitted what BiznesAlert.pl had written about a long time ago. Frequent breakdowns of the installation are perceived as an element of Russia’s hybrid war against Lithuania. Additionally, the Lithuanian leaders believe that the disputes in the Baltic States on how to make their electricity grid independent of Russia’s BRELL system through Poland are inspired by Russia.
We have to talk, but only about facts
The hybrid war in the energy sector impacts Georgia and Ukraine every day. Lithuania has no doubts that its situation is similar. Poles may also wonder why Russia’s Rosatom is building a “Belarusian” nuclear power plant in Ostrowiec only 20 km away from Vilnius, but far away from Minsk. Even though the project is clearly unprofitable, the ministries of energy in Poland and Lithuania are expecting price dumping from Ostrowiec, whose goal is to undermine other power generation plans in the region. Such a standpoint would not be acceptable for a Briton. Perhaps because of the fact that their market is far away from Poland’s and Lithuania’s challenges.
In order to change how countries like Poland are perceived in Western Europe, a new discussion model on the subject needs to be adopted. Western Europeans react better to academic, depersonalized arguments than to a simple description of political postulates. They need numbers and graphs and well-prepared presentations. In order to be successful, we should – similarly to negotiations with the European Commission – adopt a conciliatory course and open up to different opinions of our partners. Further professionalization of Poland’s foreign ministry’s and energy ministry’s staff should help us achieve this goal.
Causing drama makes no impact in the western part of our continent, but good argument does. This is the best tool that we can use to explain our partners in the European Union why Nord Stream 2 is a bad idea, not only from the point of view of energy security, but also the future of Europe’s gas market.