Opening address by Mirek Topolánek at the Southern Corridor – New Silk Road summit

Prague, 8 May 2009.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honour for me, as President of the European Council, to welcome to Prague the representatives of the Southern Corridor countries, the countries of Southern Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East, representatives of observer states, of the European Union and other guests.
Today’s summit, I believe, is a clear example that despite a considerable geographical distance our countries share a number of interests and we have a lot to offer each other. I hope that this unique meeting will launch the process of deepening our cooperation, which will undoubtedly be of benefit to all involved.

To begin with, it is certainly fitting that the project should be introduced as a whole, all the more so as various countries tend to understand the Southern Corridor in ways that are greatly different. Some consider the Southern Corridor to be just a physical corridor for the transfer of natural gas, and thus associate it only with the Nabucco gas pipeline. Others see the Southern Corridor as covering both natural gas and oil.

However, for the Czech Presidency, the Southern Corridor is not synonymous merely with the Nabucco project. We understand the Southern Corridor as a space allowing the broadest possible forms of cooperation, be it in the area of energy and transport infrastructure, technologies, science and research or the exchange of know-how. Certainly, with such a significant project as Nabucco at its beginning, the deepening of the cooperation will progress all the more rapidly and intensively.

The entire process of cooperation should, in my opinion, be launched by specific joint projects in the field of energy. Only by implementing concrete projects can we achieve success and broaden our cooperation even more.

The accomplishment of strategic projects bringing together the Corridor countries will encourage private companies to invest in strategic projects in the field of transport. A well-developed transport infrastructure will then make the movement of persons between the Corridor countries more fluent and intensify contacts on a personal as well as commercial level. This is the fundamental pre-requisite for further development of economic and political cooperation within the Corridor.

I am confident that we have what it takes to trigger such a multiplication effect and that our achievements will then “spill over” to other areas as well. However, to achieve this, we need more than just political will and support. Financial and technological involvement is also of crucial importance.

An example showing that such a multiplication effect really works is right before our eyes. Back in the 1950s, the European Communities, too, were based on cooperation in the sector of coal and steel, strategic commodities that played a key role at that time. Only when the participating countries saw for themselves that working together on this basis was mutually advantageous, did they decide to enlarge the scope of cooperation.

I have stated time and time again that oil and natural gas are the coal and steel of our era. This is in no way intended to imply that the Southern Corridor project should follow the pattern of the development of the European Union. Rather, I would like to stress that it would be unfortunate to shut out in advance any broader cooperation within the Southern Corridor, the future potential of which we cannot predict today. In the same vein, in the 1950s, nobody could have predicted that in 2009 the EU would comprise 27 Member States from Western as well as Central and Eastern Europe.

For our initiative to be successful, it must be a win-win model for all the parties; satisfaction must not be on one side only and participation in the Southern Corridor initiative must bring long-term sustainable economic growth and enhanced stability and security to all involved.

All cooperation within the Corridor must be transparent and based on market principles and mutual confidence of producers, transit operators and consumers in the system. Assuming that the Southern Corridor countries will consider energy above all as trade, it is the market environment that will maximise their profits. Here, producers will be able to sell their commodities to the most advantageous offer while consumers will be able to buy the quantity of commodities they need under the most advantageous conditions available.

A market environment can only be created through the diversification of sources and transport routes for raw materials. This is essential, but also brings advantage to all participants. Diversification will provide consumers with alternatives in extracting raw materials and their transport, which will boost energy security, while offering alternative markets to producers, thus strengthening their independence and giving them an opportunity to sell their raw materials at full world prices.

Cooperation in the field of energy, though, has a broader dimension than just securing the supply of raw materials. Equally important is the opportunity to use common know-how in the area of exploration, infrastructure, extraction and use of resources and, last but not least, in energy saving and renewable resources.

One example is the usage of associated gas, which in many cases is burned during oil extraction, instead of being efficiently used. The resources on our planet are limited and effective management and utilisation is our common goal. The issue of energy should not divide us, but bring us together.

I am convinced that the time is ripe for the European Union to take concrete steps in energy policy and start implementing projects that have already been approved. It is necessary to act and move from general proclamations to practical steps. I hope that today’s meeting will mark the beginning of this phase.

I am glad that we have met here in such a large number and I am looking forward to presenting our expectations, interests and concrete proposals to put this initiative into practice.
Let me now give the floor to our distinguished guest, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.

Last update: 16.8.2011 15:22

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