Energy policies play a key role in the cooperation between the European Union and the countries of the Mediterranean area, being the latter endowed with strategic resources like gas and oil and the former in need of solving the issue of energy security. These policies constitute only a part of neighbourhood policies adopted by the European Union, which have been too much Eurocentric in the past and mainly based on bilateral cooperation rather than regional. Therefore, this calls for a new approach to deal with our neighbours on the Southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, based on understanding the challenges for cooperation, the needs and priorities of countries involved and taking into account the synergies of EU and Mediterranean countries altogether. Obstacles to cooperation are represented by the terrorist threat, the migration pressure and by the number of hidden and open conflicts in the region. However, the workshop organised by Bruegel and Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei brought interesting policy recommendations to build a more stable cooperation between the two regions.
From a general point of view, dialogue is needed between the parties for a common understanding of issues: the approaches and priorities of EU and Mediterranean countries are different, and the partnership should not involve the export of an EU model of policy-making to the Southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, pragmatism, rather than ideological approaches, would work better in building the cooperation.
For what concerns the energy cooperation, policy recommendations cover the areas of gas and renewables and are deeply concerned with infrastructure financing. First, the EU decarbonisation goal calls for a reduction in coal usage and an increase in gas demand, a commodity largely available in Western Mediterranean countries; the security of gas supply and the reliance of Europe on a limited number of importers also constitute a relevant issue. The existing transportation infrastructure connecting EU and Mediterranean has to be fully used for these purposes, and more space should be given to SMCs in order to decrease the presence of dominant suppliers, like Russia, in the European market. Eastern Mediterranean countries pose other challenges to gas cooperation. In this case, the infrastructure is still largely missing and countries are not willing to cooperate between themselves because of tensions in the region. However, recent discoveries, like the huge gas deposit in Zohr, close to the Egyptian coasts, can change the geopolitical settings of the region if there is cooperation in building the infrastructure.
Secondly, there is room for collaboration on the renewables side, especially because the two shores of the Mediterranean exhibit complementarities and share the commitment towards decarbonisation. In fact, while some Med countries invested in solar and wind power but need larger flows of investments and exhibit an increasing demand because of population and economic growth, EU has a great endowment of capital and leads the path in terms of energy efficiency. Obstacles for the development of renewables in the Mediterranean region are the regulatory environment and the financing. The EU can export skills and knowledge in Med countries to improve technology capabilities and human capital in the private sector and set commitment devices for firms in order to attract foreign investments. Moreover, long term investment programmes could be a way to affect the regulatory framework of these countries.
Last but not least, the workshop brought a crucial and interdisciplinary recommendation: there is the need of increasing trust and compatibility between countries on the two shores of the Mediterranean Sea, taking into account diversities and peculiarities of each country.
Event notes by Domenico Favoino, Research Assistant