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Czech Government Facing Challenge After Failed Energy Deal


The current European Union president, the Czech Republic, is under pressure to overcome failed talks with key former Soviet states on an energy deal. Negotiations on reducing Europe's dependency on Russian natural gas are one of several key challenges facing the Czech Republic's new government.

Interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer and his cross-party government replaced the ousted center-right cabinet of Mirek Topolanek during the weekend. It is not clear what it will be able to do to help revive energy talks with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, strategic ex-Soviet states that have refused to sign an energy deal with the EU.

During negotiations in the Czech capital, Prague, the three natural-gas producing nations were not convinced by E.U. offers of more trade and stronger transport links in exchange for their participation in a multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline, known as Nabucco.

It would pump gas from the Caspian Sea region through Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso admits there are reservations about the plan.

"Turkmenistan, they are stating a position that they consider basically their policy is that they [pump] the gas [to] the border. But [after that] it is up to others to engage. They do not want to assume any legal obligations," Barroso said.

Other countries, including Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia have signed the deal, but analysts say that is not enough to make the project work. The European Union plans close cooperation with Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq and Egypt.

The Nabucco pipeline aims to bypass Russia and Ukraine, after natural gas price disputes between the two neighbors led to serious disruptions in supplies to the rest of Europe earlier this year.

Yet the Czech Republic's ambassador-at-large for energy security, Vaclav Bartuska, has told Russia Today television his government also believes that Europe will have to continue to closely cooperate with Moscow.

"I do not think that exchanging Russia for Turkmenistan or Ukraine for Turkey, if it was the only step, would be that very smart," said Bartuska.

In addition to the pipeline, the new Czech government faces other E.U. challenges, including a crucial June summit that will deal with the so-called Lisbon Treaty. The proposed treaty, which replaces plans for an E.U. constitution, is opposed by the Czech Republic's President Vaclav Klaus.

Prime Minister Fischer and President Klaus have yet to decide who will be in charge of this and other events of the E.U. presidency. Despite his criticism of the European Union, President Klaus has agreed to lead European summits with Russia and South Korea later this month.

Soon after the Czech Republic's E.U. presidency ends, the country is expected to hold early elections in October. Prime Minister Fischer has already said he does not want to stay in politics, but instead return to his old job as head of the Czech Statistical Office.

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