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Gas dispute with Russia boosts European interest in alternative pipeline

The Nabucco pipeline, scheduled to start construction in 2010, would ship gas from the Caspian region and the Middle East.

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Indeed, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said: "The message I will take to the March European Council [meeting] is that now we have to be serious about diversifying and investing in Europe's energy security future."

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But analysts warn that Nabucco faces major hurdles – such as how the pipeline will be filled. So far, only Azerbaijan has committed itself to supplying gas to Nabucco, but it can only fill a fraction of the pipeline's capacity. Other potential suppliers, such as Turkmenistan or Iran, are problematic for logistical or political reasons.

And while Turkey's role as a transit route is crucial, Nabucco is under threat of being held hostage to the politics of Ankara's troubled EU membership bid.

Nabucco could also be undercut by Moscow, which suggests that Europe diversify its shipment routes (not its supply) by constructing South Stream, a pipeline that would bring Russian gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

"What we have is a series of agreements and a theory," says Bulent Aliriza, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, about Nabucco. "It's got problems all the way down the line."

Other critics worry that Nabucco is being put forward as a kind of panacea for Europe's energy woes, without taking the discussion of what real energy diversity and security would mean any further.

"Simply building a pipeline slightly south is not a strategic issue; it's a regional one," says Andrew Monaghan, a research adviser at the NATO Defence College in Rome.

The EPC's Ms. Akcakoca says that if Europe doesn't want another winter without gas, Nabucco must be part of a unified EU energy policy. "[The EU's] energy policy is quite weak, because each ... member state negotiates its energy deals," she says. "There needs to be one EU energy policy. That's what they should be aiming for."