By Leigh Phillips
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki announced on Wednesday (16 April) their intention to develop an energy security partnership between Iraq and the European Union."We want to establish an energy security partnership, which will benefit both European consumers and Iraq's economy," president Barroso told reporters in Brussels after a meeting with Mr al-Maliki
Mr Barroso said that negotiations on a trade and cooperation agreement were also "progressing very well". The EU and Iraq would sign a memorandum of understanding on energy security in the coming weeks, he added.In return, the Iraqi prime minister had his own requests of Europe: "We need more effort to reconstruct our country and for this reconstruction. We need the aid of our European friends.""We want to promote these relations based on mutual interest – be they in energy or other areas," he said. "We do hope this meeting will result in new steps of cooperation between Iraq and EU countries, especially regarding contributing to developing our oil and gas sectors," he added.
Referring to the challenges facing the Iraqi government, the president said: "It's an immense task," adding: "Mr al-Maliki can count on the European Union's and European Commission's solidarity to build a peaceful country based on democracy and the rule of law."Europe diversifying its sources Earlier in the day, the Iraqi oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, met with energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
The EU is hoping to reach an agreement to import natural gas from Iraq via the planned Nabucco gas pipeline stretching across Turkey to central Europe, which is set to open by 2013. The move is part of Europe's strategy of diversifying its sources of energy away from Russia, which supplies a quarter of the EU's gas needs.In a statement, the commission said that Iraq stands ready to sign "at any time" the draft energy memorandum of understanding.
Commissioner Piebalgs also mentioned his support for cooperation in the solar energy technology field and offered technical assistance to Iraq for the preparation of its ten-year Energy Master Plan.Iraq made a political "gesture of goodwill from Iraq to the EU" and promised "at least 5 billion cubic metres" of gas in a first stage from the Akkas field, and indicated that probably there would be more in the future for the European Union.
Mr al-Maliki also spoke at a joint meeting of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Iraq and the Foreign Affairs Committee."We've come here to look for a new relationship," said the prime minister. "We don't want the EU to be the donor and we the recipient. Iraq is a major oil producer and we want to exploit that potential. "We think there's a desire on the part of the EU to our oil and gas. That's why we have to start working on a new type of cooperation."
UK Liberal MEP Emma Nicholson, the chairman of the parliament's Iraq delegation, said: "The overriding sentiment of the meeting was that Iraq and the EU should continue to build on their already very close relationship."In particular, she noted that Mr al-Maliki emphasised that the EU, rather than providing direct aid, could help Iraq by providing technical assistance and expertise to increase its ability to use existing natural resources.