Maghreb Gas Exports to EU Could Rival Russia's by 2020

The bloc's Energy Commissioner says the North African region has huge potential as a supplier of natural gas and renewable energy

The North African Maghreb region could rival Russia as a source of gassupply to the EU by 2020, EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs told a high level EuroMed ministerial conference in Cyprus December 18.

"If we combine the potential gas production of Algeria, Libya and Egypt, by 2020 gas exports from the Maghreb to Europe could reach the level of Russian gas exports," said Piebalgs.

Russia is the EU's largest single energy supplier, providing half of the EU's gas imports. There was also a huge potential in the region for renewable energy, in particular solar, wind and biomass, said Piebalgs, while the EU was "a major reliable and attractive market, offering multiple business opportunities."

Ministers from North African and Middle Eastern countries around the Mediterranean Sea and the EU endorsed a 2008-2013 Euro-Mediterranean energy action plan during the conference. The plan forsees the countries working together in three priority areas: harmonizing and integrating energy markets and laws across the region, promoting sustainable energy, and developing common interest initiatives, such as extending infrastructure, financing investments and research and development.

Integrating energy markets implies developing a comprehensive regional database to track energy sector reforms in the non-EU Mediterranean partner countries, said Piebalgs. "This database will also provide examples of best practice," he said. "It will serve as a permanent common reference and contribute to define benchmarks."

Promoting sustainable energy includes cutting gas flaring as a priority, said Piebalgs, for example by encouraging producer countries to take part in the World Bank Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership. And the plan lists example priority common interest infrastructure projects, including the Nabucco gas pipeline from the Caspian to the EU, the trans-Saharan gas pipeline linking Nigeria to Italy, and power interconnections between the EU and Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

This priority list "would help to trigger financing by international financial institutions," said Piebalgs, and the European Commission would finance its share and help with the regional cooperation.

"But substantial investments will be required from national budgets together with an appropriate involvement of the private sector," said Piebalgs. "This requires a stable and open investment climate."

The non-EU Mediterranean signatories to the plan were Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia.

Ministers agreed to work together to integrate Libya into the energy cooperation. The ministers suggested holding the next EuroMed ministerial conference in 2009 to review progress on the action plan.