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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Statement of President Barroso on the resolution of the Ukraine-Russia Gas Dispute

Press point
Brussels, 20 January 2009

Today we can – finally – welcome the resumption of gas supplies to Europe. The Russian side opened the valves this morning and the Ukrainian side has allowed the gas to flow. Our monitors on the ground report that gas is flowing normally, pressure is building up in the system and gas is crossing the Ukrainian border into Slovakia. So we can now tell our citizens: the gas is finally on its way.

We have worked night and day for three weeks to get to this point. In particular I have spoken in considerable detail and with great regularity to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin on the Russian side and to President Yushenko and Prime Minister Tymoschenko on the Ukrainian side. I have made it very clear throughout that we insisted on the immediate resumption of gas supplies.

I would particularly like to thank Andris Piebalgs and his services who have worked tirelessly to restore gas supplies, and also of course Prime Minister Topolanek and the Czech Presidency with whom we have worked very closely. This has been a team effort and an effective unified voice.

It is worth reviewing briefly the actions of the Commission.

We set up a monitoring team on the spot over a week ago, which was vital for confidence building. But when it was clear that this was not enough, the Commission then sponsored the agreement on the Terms of Reference for the monitoring mission.

And finally, when it was clear that agreement on the whole contract was going to be necessary in order for gas transit to be resumed, Andris and I have pushed hard for direct, substantial talks between the parties at a high political level. That has now led directly to settlement of the dispute.

So, welcome news. But at the same time, it is difficult to welcome something that should not have happened in the first place. It was utterly unacceptable that European gas consumers were held hostage to this dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Therefore we have to learn the lessons of this dispute. Indeed, I think that all sides have lessons to learn, but let me focus here on the key points from our side.

First, solidarity worked inside the EU and with our near neighbours. Mitigation measures taken by EU companies and the Member States allowed most countries to manage the situation successfully.

Second, however, we must not allow ourselves to be placed in this position in future. New Year is for fireworks and celebration, not gas crises. This cannot become an annual event. We have to stop simply talking about energy security in Europe, and start doing something about it. The Commission's Strategic Energy Review published last November makes a number of recommendations which we will now try to move forward rapidly.

  • In particular, we must now promote the rapid development of infrastructure for the EU's energy needs, to encourage both diversity of energy sources and supply routes. We want to see rapid agreement in the Council to the proposal from the Commission for 5 bn euros of unspent money to go on infrastructure spending, notably in the energy area.
  • We have to complete the Third Single Energy Market package which is currently in its final stages. This will mean more transparency for networks, storage and demand.
  • Last but not least, we have to prepare better for the next crisis. Member States must prepare for next winter. That means rapid agreement to changes in the Security of Gas Supply Directive, and the Commission will bring forward detailed proposals as soon as possible.

But let's not forget the big picture. This painful episode is a sharp reminder that the EU needs to take energy security seriously. But we have also shown that Europe will do whatever it takes to ensure that our citizens are not left in the cold. Energy security begins at home.

And finally, let us remember that energy efficiency, renewables, all means of cutting back on carbon emissions, will become ever more important in the future. Measures to develop energy security and measures to tackle climate change are mutually reinforcing.

The message I will take to the March European Council is that now we have to be serious about diversifying and investing in Europe's energy security future.

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