Serbian Citizens in Favor of South Stream Construction
More than 70 percent of Serbian citizens support the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline’s section in Serbia, and expect the project to yield significant economic benefits for Serbia. Just three percent of the polled are against the pipeline.
Nearly 80 percent of the citizens (79 percent, to be specific) believe South Stream will benefit Serbia economically. That belief is not shared by just five percent of the polled, according to a survey conducted for Natural Gas Europe by WorldThinks. The results of the poll were presented by WorldThinks Director Viki Cooke at the conference titled South Stream: The Evolution of a Pipeline, held in Belgrade on July 11.
The survey was conducted in late May on a sample of 500 people, and apart from ordinary citizens the poll also involved unnamed representatives of certain interest groups in Serbia. Among them were three academicians, one business leader, two civil servants, a non-governmental organization for environmental cooperation, two politicians, and two brain trusts. The representatives of these groups are also predominantly in favor of the building of South Stream, although some fear this will cause greater dependence on the supplier (Russia), that Serbia as the minority partner will not have control of the gas pipeline, or that the project will not be carried out properly.
The future regional pipeline South Stream, a joint project by Gazprom and Italian Eni, is supposed to transport Russian gas under the Black Sea, through a 900-kilometer pipeline via Bulgaria and Serbia to other European countries. The value of the investment is estimated at 20 billion euros. The pipeline’s capacity is to be 63 billion cubic meters per year, construction is set to begin late this year and is targeted for completion at the end of 2015. The agreement on the building of South Stream has so far, apart from Serbia, been signed by Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece and Slovenia.
However, as Viki Cooke put it, the survey has shown that energy issues are not a priority for Serbian citizens. Namely, the polled expressed the most concern over the high unemployment rate in the country (72 percent), high food prices (54 percent) and political and economic corruption (31 percent). The prices of fuel, political instability and energy supplies from several states are not something the public is overly concerned about. The thing the citizens hope for the most are the suppression of unemployment (79 percent) and greater economic stability (14 percent), whereas only seven percent of the polled hope for the state’s achieving greater energy independence.
On the other hand, the survey has revealed that interest groups in Serbia are concerned to an extent about the security of supplying energy to the state in light of dependence from other countries; they think energy is being wasted in Serbia and that losses in the power grid and lack of insulation in households should be dealt with. A small number of interest groups are worried about environmental pollution, lack of choice of energy suppliers for households and high fuel prices.
“At the moment we have just one link (for gas deliveries), through Hungary. It is a well-known fact that (when there is only one supplier) they can cut off supplies at any time, or can blackmail you and charge as high transit fees as they want,” said the representative of an interest group.
These groups also believe that state policy in the energy field is inconsistent and that there is no long-term strategy. It is believed that the energy policy changes along with governments and is the result of political bargaining, as well as that foreign companies and investors often wield excessive influence over the policy.
As far as the citizens’ knowledge of energy sources in Serbia is concerned, they know the most about coal (84 percent) and the least about nuclear energy (38 percent). Natural gas was opted for by 73 percent, right behind oil and hydroelectric power plants. Renewable energy sources are the most desirable sources of energy in Serbia, but natural gas is by far the most popular fossil fuel. The most desirable energy is solar (93 percent), while 71 percent chose natural gas – some 30 percent more than coal and twofold more than oil. The least desirable is nuclear energy.
Also, all interest groups think natural gas plays a key part in Serbia’s energy mix. The upsides of natural gas are its purity and the availability of large quantities, whereas a small number of interest groups believe it would be better if Serbia turned to its renewable energy sources, rather than rely on gas imports.
The citizens also believe that South Stream will bring them thousands of new jobs, that it will knock down the price of gas and that, thanks to the project, Serbia will have secure gas supplies. The most important potential flaws of the project are considered to be the danger of accidents at the pipeline, greater dependence on Russia and the increased use of fossil fuels. However, 65 percent of the polled think the potential benefits outweigh the possible faults, whereas 15 percent think the opposite.
“South Stream enjoys great support in Serbia… but citizens also harbor some fear. That is why the economic benefits of the pipeline, its safety and the fact that the new project will not mean economic dependence from Russia should continue to be explained to the population,” said Viki Cooke.
Srbijagas CEO Dusan Bajatovic responded to her speech by saying that from the construction of South Stream alone Serbian companies will be able to count on deals worth between 600 and 800 million euros. Also, Serbia could annually rake in about 200 million euros from South Stream. Bajatovic added that one should not fear energy dependence from Russia, because Serbia has gotten good contracts for drawing gas, but also admitted that apart from South Stream Belgrade had not been invited to take part in any other energy project that would increase the stability of gas supplies.