The Central European Energy Conference started as a small forum focused on discussing gas from a national perspective.
This year, the Central European Conference (CEEC) celebrates its 10th anniversary. In the year of Slovakia’s EU Council Presidency, it partnered with European Commission’s research and innovation initiative. The 2016 year is called SET Plan – Central European Energy Conference X.
But the conference started as a small national forum with a limited reach and participation. How has CEEC become a leading European energy conference?
Gas crisis as the trigger
The start of the conference is linked to the end of certainty about gas supplies to Eastern Europe: the 2006 gas crisis.
Alexander Duleba, the Director of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA), together with other experts, Karel Hirman and Jan Klepáč, saw the crisis coming as they analysed Russia’s supply contracts with the other post-Soviet states.
“Nobody took us seriously at the time,” Duleba remembers. But the experts did were not discouraged. On the contrary, they organized a conference. “There was a need to alert about the risks related to gas supplies.”
The year 2007 was the first of what later became CEEC.
A trans-sectorial forum
Duleba and his colleagues forecasted also the much more serious 2009 gas crisis. Only then major stakeholders got interested in the forum.
The ranks of institutional partners were also extended.
The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, which had been supporting the forum since 2007, was joined by the Ministry of Economy, responsible for the energy portfolio in Slovakia.
The conference took off. The initial focus shifted from gas to a wide range of sectors. A national viewpoint shifted to a regional one.
Shifting from national to regional
Duleba was aware of the need to go beyond gas already in 2007, when the conference was attended by stakeholders from other sectors.
“I realized that in Slovakia we do not have a conference where representatives of the different energy sectors came together. Yet, the business is so interconnected. When something happens in gas, it has impact on the renewables and nuclear. And vice-versa.”
The regional dimension was eventually a fallout of the 2009 crisis. There was a real threat industrial firms would close in Slovakia due to lack of gas supplies and leave for example for Poland.
“The year 2009 was a huge shock. But it also meant a progress in our thinking: there are no good national solutions.” Duleba explains. “We cannot compete as nation states. We have to learn to think energy in regional terms.”
Decision-making based on public debate
CEEC has also become a place of exclusive declarations. The International Energy Agency makes there the regional presentation of its World Energy Outlook. In 2014, the Slovak gas transport operator Eustream used the forum to present the Eastring project for the first time.
But for many firms CEEC is also an opportunity to lobby the regulators. Duleba is aware of it.
A conference, he believes, increases chances that regulatory actions are based on arguments rather than on deals behind closed doors.
“It is lobbying,” he admits, “but public debate makes decision-making better, more transparent and essentially more open.”
The last Presidency highlight
Ever since 2009, CEEC has focused on three areas: supply security; cross-sectorial debate; and regulatory policy and decision-making.
This year, the conference will move further.
Organized as a SET Plan forum, it will have a European dimension. In fact, CEEC is the last major event organized in Bratislava under Slovakia’s EU Council Presidency lasting until December 2016.
“We are glad that the conference’s history legitimized it for such a partnership,” Duleba says. On this occasion, the conference partnered also with the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for the SET Plan in Slovakia.
A new feature: research and innovation
Duleba expects that European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas will present the new European integrated strategy for research and innovation.
He will speak in a panel dedicated to this topic and featured at CEEC for the first time.
“So far we haven’t had a focus on research and innovation. This is new and on a high-level,” Duleba says.
“I hope this strategy will be further on associated with this conference.”
The biggest challenge: funding
Interesting speakers are the key to a successful conference, Duleba believes. „A conference is good, when the speakers are competent. The more they have a say in the decision-making, the more competent and interesting they are for the participants.”
But for Duleba, fund-raising is the biggest challenge. He and his team always have ideas about the next year, but funding turns those ideas into reality.
Over the years, a stable group of supporters has been formed around CEEC.
“I am very thankful to them for allowing us to realize our vision,” he says.
A vision for the future: Energy Union
As CEEC celebrates its 10th anniversary, Duleba has a vision for the years to come. He wants to focus on the Energy Union.
“There is a good constellation,” he explains. “Energy Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič is from Slovakia and we have a good cooperation with him and his team.”
“I want the conference to help solve issues in forming the Energy Union.” Those include the regional gas markets integration, electricity market coupling and regulatory policies harmonisation.
According to the SFPA Director, the Energy Union is a policy project. “If there is no political agreement between the Member States, there will be no Energy Union.”