The European Union signed an energy agreement on Friday aimed at speeding up the construction of a long-delayed pipeline that would bring gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe and help offset the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy.
The agreement, signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Egypt at a summit meeting in Prague, centers on the 2,000-mile Nabucco pipeline, which would bring Central Asian gas to Europe without passing through Russian territory. The European Union hopes the pipeline will start pumping gas to Europe by 2014. The pressing need to find an alternative to Russian supply was underlined in January when a pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine resulted in a shortage of gas supplies in several European countries.
Turkey, whose cooperation is essential for the pipeline, has haggled for months over transit rules. It indicated on Friday that it was prepared to sign a transit deal by June. But Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gul, also made it clear that his acquiescence would depend on some progress in Turkey’s talks on membership in the European Union, which have stalled in recent months.
Diplomats said representatives of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan refused to sign the agreement because of pressure from Russia, which supplies one-fifth of Europe’s gas. The Kremlin views the Nabucco pipeline as a potential geopolitical challenge, and it has sought to frustrate its developers at every turn. But the recent decline in energy prices has weakened its influence with the gas producers, creating more of an opening for the West.