Energy ministers meet to discuss possible fuel crisis

European Union energy ministers are expected to discuss the region’s mandatory strategic oil reserves and how to deal with the fallout from a war in Iraq when they meet in Thessaloniki on Saturday, current EU president Greece said yesterday. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said the summit of energy ministers will be an opportunity «for member states to exchange views on how to deal with a possible crisis in Iraq» as well as intervention to ensure adequate supplies and price stability. The forthcoming discussion on crisis management came as EU leaders papered over their differences on Iraq at an emergency summit on Monday, stressing that war was not inevitable while simultaneously calling on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to take advantage of his final opportunity to disarm peacefully. Tsochadzopoulos said OPEC Secretary-General Alvaro Silva Calderon has agreed to attend the Thessaloniki summit to present the views of oil-producing countries. «There is always a danger in the event of war that oil-producing countries take advantage [of the situation] and aggravate high prices. This is something one should be prepared for and deal with,» he said. One of the principal topics to be discussed will be secure oil and natural gas supplies for the region, notably the European Commission’s recommendation that EU countries increase their strategic oil reserves to 120 days from the current 90. The proposal has come under attack by some countries for its additional costs. On oil prices, Tsochadzopoulos said the summit will seek to find a common stand on how to offset an increase in fuel prices without affecting the region’s economy. He said there was a proposal to set up an EU price-monitoring mechanism along the lines of the Greek structure. EU energy ministers will also discuss strategic cooperation with Russia, a relationship which has gained greater importance during this critical period, Tsochadzopoulos stressed. The EU is looking to boost energy ties with Russia, which presently supplies 30 percent of the region’s natural gas. The summit plans to push for the construction of the Bourgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline and the Turkey-Greece natural gas pipeline. The pipelines are part of the EU’s plans for an integrated European energy market.