Given the important decisions it is currently facing and its geographic location, Romania is at an interesting crossroads - both in strategic and physical terms. The first European country to have exported its gas is now (re)defining its role as an important regional energy hub.
Whereas, some EU countries are currently discovering the benefits of interconnectivity and cross-border energy trade as part of the Energy Union, Romania's first exports of gas took place almost 60 years ago!
But things have changed. Certain primary resources have been phased out due to their negative environmental impact and new (notably sustainable) ones have emerged; new pipelines have been laid down across the continent and a global LNG market has emerged; the Community of Coal and Steel has evolved into the European Union which has recently set an internal energy market as one of its primary priorities; and even Romania itself has seen the collapse of Communism and its new place as an important member of the European Union. Exporting Romanian gas in 2015 is therefore radically different than what it was back in 1958 when it all began.
Some things never change
The good news is that Romania still enjoys two major advantages when it comes to its energy positioning: the abundance of natural resources and its geographic location - both make Romania much less dependent on external suppliers (compared to its neighbours) and a potential regional energy hub by itself.
In that sense, Romania is at interesting crossroads not only because of its location at the heart of Europe's energy flows, but also because it is a moment in time when its political decisions will have a great impact on the future of its energy market, perhaps for the next 60 years.
Seeing with my own eyes
With this in mind, I was very much looking forward to bring the Energy Union Tour to the country which had made the first steps towards the internal energy market long before anybody spoke about it. I had a pleasure to meet with the Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the Minister of Energy, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Business Environment Andrei Gerea, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Bogdan Aurescu, as well as with the Members of the Romanian Parliament and businesses. I followed up the next day by meeting with President Iohannis in Brussels.
Discussing the advantages that the Energy Union could provide to Romania in 2015 and in the years to come, we covered topics like market liberalisation, the energy security of Romania, Black Sea resources, energy efficiency, technologies and infrastructure and other important matters.
In a nutshell, I welcomed the progress that Romania has achieved in reforming its energy market, notably in coupling its market with its neighbours, and the fact that it had phased out regulated prices for wholesale consumers. I encouraged my interlocutors to continue down this path, phasing out price regulation for domestic consumers as well, keeping in mind the importance of protecting vulnerable consumers.
I also called on them to expedite some of the interconnector projects, notably the one with Bulgaria. Having recently discussed this matter with the Bulgarian government, I know there is great political will on the other side of the border as well. Once all consumers can freely choose which provider they want to buy the energy from, the market will adapt, providing better consumer-oriented services at highest efficiency.
Finally, I thanked the Romanian decision-makers for the very important role their government has played in the formation of the Central and South Eastern Europe Gas Connectivity (also known as CESEC) and for the special attention they gave to inter-connecting with Moldova - one which led to its inclusion in CESEC.
In the panel debate organised by Bucharest Forum I called on Romania to ride the wave of the energy transition and to export innovative technological solutions and not only resources. Why? Because the innovative spirit of adopting new technologies is deeply ingrained in the Romanian spirit! It was the Romanian city of Timișoara which was the first in Europe to introduce electric street lights back in 1884 and the city of Ilimbav which built the first natural gas storage. It is therefore only logical that Romania will introduce the next ground-breaking technologies for capturing and storing renewable energy!
Video of Full speech at the Bucharest Forum of the Aspen Institute, Romania 15.10.2015
There is another element of the Romanian spirit which I retain, and that the sense of persistence. In fact, this was perfectly summarised by Razvan Eugen Nicolescu, Chairman of the Administrative Board of Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) and former Romanian Energy Minister. He surprised me with a tray which said "don't give up". Let me promise you Mr Nicolescu as well as to all Europeans: I will not give up. This means too much to me, it means too much for Europe!
But I'd like second his call: together let's not give up and create the EU Energy Union where Romania can serve as an energy and efficiency hub. The right steps will bring Romania closer to becoming a bridge between Eastern Europe, such as Ukraine and Moldova, and Central Europe, and bring it back to the glorious past as the European energy cradle. I have no doubt Romania can transform itself into an exporter of technologies and renewables if it keeps the same innovative spirit and foresight as it has in the past.