|On 28 July 2011 the Center for the Study of Democracy hosted a round-table discussion on energy security. The speakers were General James Jones, former National Security Advisor to President Obama, joined by Mr. Traicho Traikov, the Bulgarian Minister of Economy, Energy and Tourism. Participants included senior government officials and energy experts.
General Jones acknowledged that the topic of energy security remains largely unnoticed in the general national security debate. He noted that there is a lack of a coherent US energy security strategy. The US energy portfolio is divided between 9 departments and 30 oversight committees and subcommittee, affecting the coherence of energy policies. Policy is characterised by temporary focus on issues, strongly correlated with high prices of gas at the pump. In response General Jones is coordinating a bipartisan consensus group, focusing on both national and international energy security, with the objective of providing the public and interested stakeholders a transparent document on energy security. He underscored specifically that energy security tends to be an international matter in todays globalized world. This is particularly valid for Europe as it is generally more dependent on national decision-making. Hence it is not proper to interpret energy security as energy independence. 'Energy should unify, not divide us' as this has been seen by some European countries recently.
Minister Traicho Traikov specified that in Bulgaria energy security and national security are one and the same issue now. Bulgaria is involved in attempting to improve national (energy) security through investment in renewables, conventional and new technologies as part of a wider European effort to improve energy supply and economic competitiveness. The challenges that Bulgaria face are that within the EU it is difficult, hardly possible, to convince some (bigger) nations that they should give up part of their sovereignty in energy decision-making. Overcoming this is a prerequisite to common energy policy in Europe, which is of paramount importance to smaller EU member-states such as Bulgaria. Commenting on the Nabucco gas pipeline project Minister Traikov expressed his concern that so far it is based too much on a commercial basis, and that the commitment of more EU funds are required if it is to be completed, and demonstrated that the project is a strategic priority for the EU.
Several participants in the discussions indicated that Bulgaria could benefit from a more proactive energy security policy, proposing to shape national energy projects rather than reacting to outside initiatives. In particular, Russian influence in the country is perceived to be based on a combination of a desire to maximise energy export revenues, and also to utilize energy as a foreign policy tool (an explicit, stated, aim in Russian strategic documents). Hence policies, which may break the current mould of energy relations between Bulgaria and Russia, though they may reform the current uncompetitive Bulgarian energy market, lead to resistance in Russia and within Bulgaria from the intermediaries of existing energy interests. Whilst there was concern over the lack of EU unity on energy issues (and more broadly considering the example of the Eurozone crisis), a degree of optimism was expressed that investors might continue to express an interest in Bulgarian energy diversification projects backed by the EU. For these to materialize, however, there is a need of very strong political will in Bulgaria to unblock what is often noted by external observers as unexplainable paralysis of decision-making on large infrastructure projects in energy.