Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden on European Energy Security to the Atlantic Council Energy and Economic Summit
Grand Tarabya Hotel
10:58 A.M. (Local)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honor to be here. I would tell you, I say to my good friend, Jim Jones, former National Security Advisor, General. General, I have a new attitude toward birthdays. And there was a famous American athlete, a professional baseball player who did not get to play in what we call the Major Leagues until he was 45 years old. His name was Satchel Paige. He was a pitcher. And on his 47th birthday, the oldest pitcher pitching, he won a game. And the press went into the locker room after the game and said -- they referred to him as Satch. They said, Satch, how does it feel being 47 and pitching in the big leagues and winning a game?
He looked at them. He said, fellahs, that's not how I look at it. He said, let me tell you how I view age. I think of it this way: How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? (Laughter.) I am 42 years old. (Laughter.) And that's the way I think of it, and I’m standing by it, Jim.
It’s great to be speaking once again before the Atlantic Council. I’m pleased to be here in Istanbul, a perfect place to talk about the issues before us, and with my good friend and he is my good friend. I was kidding the Prime Minister last time we -- we’ve known each other a long time, and he used to be the Foreign Minister. And now he’s the Prime Minister. And I’m still the Vice President. (Laughter.) But he still likes me, and I still like him. (Laughter.)
But this is the perfect place to have this discussion sitting at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, a vital part of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. And I’ve just come from Ukraine, where the United States and our European partners are working shoulder-to-shoulder within the country’s democratically elected leadership to support Ukraine’s democratic development and its European aspirations.
Quite frankly, Russian aggression in Ukraine and its illegal occupation of Crimea remind us that we still have a good deal more work to do to guarantee the strategic vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.
As I said when I spoke at a similar gathering at the Atlantic Alliance [sic] in Washington this May, this vision of Europe whole and free and at peace is the right vision. But we need to redouble our efforts to achieve it. At Wales, NATO renewed its determination to protect and defend every inch of NATO territory; to increase defense spending to 2 percent for all our NATO allies; to strengthen NATO’s readiness to deploy quickly whenever and wherever they are needed.
But as the story of Ukraine shows, there are multiple dimensions to European security. And the Prime Minister and I spoke of many of them last night for some time, as he was kind enough to host me for dinner. Obviously, one of the dimensions is hard military power. But we're also facing new weapons being used, and used by Russia and others.
First is a new development, the use of corruption and oligarchy-kleptocracy as a tool of international coercion. Second, is use of energy as a weapon, undermining the security of nations. Global energy security is a vital part of America’s national security. In East Asia, President Obama and President Xi just signed a historic agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the United States has launched an initiative to double the access to electric power. We call is Power Africa. And in the Caribbean and Central America, our administration has launched a new, regional energy strategy to help boost sustainable economic growth and diversity of energy sources.
But here in Europe, energy is -- energy security is an especially vital regional security interest because of Russia’s track record in using the supply of energy as a foreign policy weapon against its neighbors in violation of basic commercial and international norms.
This is a huge strategic problem for many countries that rely on Russia for their energy supply. But the truth is this is also a unique moment for Europe. Europe has a real opportunity to change their circumstances. We believe -- the President and I -- we believe that energy security is the next chapter in the European project of integration and market expansion that began decades ago with European coal and steel.
As a matter of economic and national security, that means we need governments and the European Commission to work hand-in-hand with the private sector to ensure diversity in sources of fuel from hydrocarbons to renewables; diversity in countries of origin, from North Africa, to the Eastern Mediterranean, to the United States; more interconnections, that supply routes that are more reliable -- everything from new pipelines to LNG facilities.
We have been aware that this single source of energy has been a problem for a long time in Europe. But now, now, now is the time to act. What’s happening in Ukraine only underscores the urgency. And my message here is not that Europe can or should do away with Russian imports. That's not the case at all. I have no doubt that Russia will and should remain a major source of energy supplies for Europe and the world.
This is about energy security. To achieve it, Europe needs to ensure it diversifies its resources, its routes and its suppliers.
Russia can and should be a player, but it has to play by the rules of the game. It shouldn’t be able to use its energy policy to play with the game.
True energy security in Europe is going to require some tough decisions, but there’s been progress. As you know, Europe experienced three energy crises in ’06, ’09 and again in 2014 when Russia shut off its supplies to Ukraine and other parts of Europe. Countries have stepped up to the plate; and with each successive crisis, we’ve made some progress.
For example, in 2008 [sic], when gas from Ukraine was cut off, Slovaks were shocked to find themselves suffering in the cold winter for two weeks, something they thought would never happen because their country lay on the route to Western Europe.
But then Slovakia adapted, and quickly built interconnections with its neighbors, enabling it to receive supplies from the Czech Republic within 24 hours in case of another such emergency. This time, this winter, there wasn’t even a threat. That’s progress.
At the same time, the U.S. and EU launched an aggressive energy diplomacy shortly after the 2009 cutoff to ensure that reserve flows -- reverse flows of gas could even be available to Ukraine from its neighbors during future crises.
The fruits of that diplomacy paid off this year, when Russia cut off the gas to Ukraine in June, and Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia quickly moved in to help.
Ukraine risked another crisis this winter. But through skillful European mediation and active U.S. engagement, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement that will keep the gas flowing this winter. That, too, is progress.
We saw other key milestones a few weeks ago when Lithuania inaugurated its liquefied natural gas terminal, appropriately named “The Independence.” I met with the Lithuanian Prime Minister in Washington in October, shortly before the launch.
In combination of this new facility, an emerging LNG deal between Finland and Estonia; and action by Baltic states to interconnect their electricity and gas supplies, both to one another and to Europe and Scandinavia as a whole; together, these things have the potential to make the Baltic “energy island” a thing of the past.
The region that was once almost entirely dependent on Russia has seized the initiative and now is on track to achieve greater energy securityand not incidentally greater freedom. All this marks a genuine advancement in our agenda. But we can’t rest on our laurels. You all know better than I we have to go much further. We have to finish the job.
That’s one of the reasons why I recently went to Cyprus -- the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cyprus in five decades -- because I wanted to encourage the Cypriots to develop their energy resources in cooperation with all -- all -- their neighbors; and to make clear that everyone benefits if the entire Eastern Mediterranean can work together to become a hub for natural gas markets.
Promoting energy security was also a major reason why I recently visited Romania. Romania can be a linchpin in delivering gas to its neighbors and even become an energy exporter for its neighbors across Central and Eastern Europe. Croatia is another country with potential to become a regional energy hub if it makes smart investments now, with EU support, and works collaboratively with its neighbors.
When President Obama visited Poland in June and Estonia in September, he called on leaders across Europe to do far more to expand and diversify their energy supplies and to work closely with one another.
We are hopeful the new E.U. Commission’s focus on Energy Union will be a step in that direction. So what do we need to do now? What actually needs to happen?
Well, in our view, to start, we need to identify critical infrastructure projects, increase the interconnectedness between European countries -- from pipelines, to electric grids, to integration of renewables, to energy efficiency standards.
Last year the EU created a mechanism to identify and help fund the most important energy infrastructure projects. But more needs to be done to make the hard decisions to prioritize projects, to focus support, to integrate Central and Eastern Europe.
I know a major obstacle is building the infrastructure. Some of the projects I just mentioned -- the LNG terminal in Lithuania, for example; the reverse-flow interconnectors -- they require long term certainty to be commercially viable on their own.
And I know that current economic conditions make it hard for governments to support infrastructure that, strictly speaking, may not be requiredto meet the narrow definition of energy demand. But that’s what leadership is about. That's what this moment is about -- having the vision and making the choices today to ensure a better and more secure European future.
Leadership also requires nations to work togetheron common policy and investment strategy. If each state operates on its own, all will wind up in a weaker position. In this regard, I was glad to see the EU carry out region-wide energy stress tests, underscoring the importance of coordination.
Another part of improving energy security is to make way for the fuel mix of the future. What the EU has done to integrate renewable energy into its fuel mix is remarkable. The ambitious targets that the EU has set for renewables, for energy efficiency, to cut emissions set a strong example for the rest of the world. And we in the United States are partners in this effort, working toward the same goals.
We also need to help develop new opportunities to bring new sources of supply to Europe. Years ago when I was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations in the United States Senate, I worked with then President Clinton to launch what was called the Contract of the Century. This was the BTC Pipeline, which would bring Caspian oil to Europe and to the global markets. If you’ll remember -- not any of you women are old enough to remember this -- but if you remember, most believed it would never happen. But with U.S. leadership and the commitments of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, it became a reality. Twenty years later, the BTC’s counterpart, the Southern Corridor is close to becoming a reality and should -- must -- become a reality.
With U.S. support, Turkish leadership, Azeri leadership, this ambitious project is traversing Azerbaijan through Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Albania and Italy -- will bring gas for the first time from the Caspian to Europe, a game changer for energy security in Europe.
Today, the energy potential of the Eastern Mediterranean can also play significant strategic and economic dividends for the region itself and Europe as a whole.
For the region, it holds the promise of enhancing stability and prosperity by bringing together Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and hopefully one day Lebanon. It also has the potential to bring new supplies into Europe, to increase its energy security by diversifying energy resources.
This was a big part my message when I was in Cyprus in May, that energy can and should serve as the tool for cooperation, for stability, for security and prosperity. And I’ve asked the State Department’s Energy Envoy, Amos Hochstein, to continue this work. We have a chance to connect the promising developments in the Mediterranean with resources as distant as Azerbaijan and Iraq to ensure greater energy security and national security for all involved.
If we get it right, and it will be difficult, but if we get it right, all will benefit from greater stability, economic growth, jobs and prosperity; from functioning marketplaces for energy -- European energy -- with all the strategic benefits that that brings.
This is also a great moment for energy in Turkey, which has already been playing a role as the energy hub for oil and is poised to play a much bigger role in gas.
That's why I was encouraged to see the recent interim agreement between Baghdad and Erbil on managing exports and revenue sharing. And we continue to support the development of a strategic pipeline from Basra to Jehan. As the regional global energy picture evolves, Turkey’s strategic location is a major, major asset. Turkey will host the G20 next year. And we welcome Turkey’s leadership in carrying forward the important work of the G20 on energy efficiency and climate change.
Turkey’s domestic market potential is also significant. In fact, Turkey is only one of Europe -- is one of Europe’s largest gas markets. It’s the only one expected to grow in the next decade. So the United States stands ready to help Turkey realize its energy potential in any way they think we can be helpful.
This will require the development of competitive gas markets to attract private investment, improve infrastructure and strengthen Turkey’s ability to become a gas hub. And as Secretary Moniz, who was here last week, told our Turkish counterparts, we're already working on renewables together, Turkey and the United States.
As leaders in the formulation of energy policy around the world, it’s within your power to help make energy insecurity in Europe and many other places a thing of the past. That should be one of our goals. We have to keep our eye on the horizon, keep moving past old ways of doing business, keep making energy a tool of cooperation, not a tool of division.
If we can do that, we can achieve a Europe not just whole, free and at peace, but prosperous and secure, a leader in shaping the world’s energy future. That would be good for all of us. So let’s make it happen. Now is the time to act. Let’s not wait any longer.
Thank you for your hospitality and thank you for listening. (Applause.)
11:18 A.M. (Local)