Europeans still remember the winter of 2008/2009 when natural gas deliveries from Russia were interrupted due to pricing issues between Ukraine and Russia. It also spurred EU nations to step up plans to build pipelines with alternate routes.
Currently there are two pipelines being planned to deliver gas to the EU.
Nabucco, a pipeline which will deliver gas from the Caspian Sea through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary to Vienna has finally reached the stage where an agreement will be signed on July 13 in Turkey.
The other pipeline is the Nordstream, a consortium made up of European countries and Russian energy producer Gazprom which aims to deliver Russian natural gas to Europe via a pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
Germans working on both sides
What both pipelines have in common are German lobbyists. Fischer and Schroeder were the two most significant politicians in the German Social Democrat/Green coalition which ruled from 1998 to 2005.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder signed a lucrative deal in 2005 to act as a lobbyist for Gazprom and the Nord Stream project and is chairman of the shareholders committee.
Now, RWE, the consortium behind the Nabucco pipeline, has announced that former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer will join the group as a political communications adviser. The RWE website cited Fischer's long standing experience in foreign affairs and energy policy as one of the key reasons for hiring him as a consultant. His contract will run through 2010.
In broader political terms, Fischer's unstated job will be to keep Turkey happy. It is no secret that he is well liked in Turkey as he has always been in favor of Turkey joining the EU.
Now that both Schroeder and Fischer serve as lobbyists, analysts wonder if there might be a conflict of interest.
Or conversely, is Germany securing its supply of natural gas by having two former government members serving as advisors to competing pipelines?
Either way, German citizens and EU citizens may end up winners.
Until recently, progress on both pipelines has been stalled due to issues such as the sharing of revenues as well as various geographical transit issues.
Turkey had insisted that it receive a percentage of Nabucco's capacity for domestic use or re-export. However, those issues seem to have been resolved and Turkey said that it will sign an intergovernmental agreement in Ankara on July 13 that will provide the key legal framework for deciding each country's allocation of gas.
Nord Stream from Russia
The Nordstream project had been beset with its own issues, most pressing of which is that fact that the Baltic Sea has been the site of many military exercises over the years and the chance of hitting a live bomb left over from those exercises is very real. Thus the Nordstream team has been using remotely operated vehicles with video cameras and measuring devices to map the ocean floor where the proposed pipeline will travel.
Neither pipeline is expected to become operational in the near future. The Nabucco pipeline is estimated to become operational in 2014 and the Nordstream pipeline is slated to come online in 2011.
Editor: Michael Lawton