The US-Europe Energy Bridge: The Next Generation of USAID’s Energy Sector Assistance in Europe and Eurasia Remarks as Prepared for Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman

Speeches Shim

Friday, November 13, 2020


Thank you and good morning. 

I’m happy to be here to kick-off the next generation of USAID’s continued assistance programming focused on energy security and critical infrastructure protection throughout Europe and Eurasia.

USAID's Energy Bridge Initiative builds on the 25 years of successful energy sector assistance to countries throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.  This initiative focuses on countries surrounding the European Union.   We are proud that  utilities and regulatory agencies in several EU member states continue to partner with USAID on the Bridge's programs.  In partnership with our EU allies, USAID's programs enable countries in this region to establish critical market and regulatory preconditions for infrastructure project development. Let me just reiterate,  it is important to recognize that we are now  partnering with former recipient countries to assist other countries in need. 

USAID’s engagement in the region  is now more important than ever and our partners clearly understand our role and the laser focus of our development mission.

Europe is at a critical time in its history and our partners throughout the Eastern Bloc and former Soviet republics are deciding which paths to take. These decisions will have significant ramifications for global security for the next generation. 

Energy plays a critical role in the decision making process. Simply put, energy independence and democratic progress are synonymous with a country’s self reliance. 

Before discussing the future of USAID’s energy assistance in the region,  it is worth reflecting back on how much we have already accomplished with our partners to build the energy sector in Europe and Eurasia. 

USAID has substantially changed the landscape in less than a generation.  This is significant, because these same countries suffered from stifling management that restricted their ability to be innovative and industrial.

U.S. experts, and especially those who volunteered their time and talent, helped countries throughout the region restore defunct power systems, moving from limited service - often just a couple hours per day - to reliability standards closer to Western Europe. 

We established free market standards and worked with international financial institutions to invest billions of dollars in energy infrastructure in the region.  As a result, large and small business alike have benefited by being able to create an environment of innovation.  

In Southeast Europe, we brought former national adversaries together to collaborate on region-wide energy network planning and development, spurring over $10 billion in energy sector investment since 2005.  

We have improved the capability of utilities and upgraded countless schools, hospitals, and other buildings, enabling citizens to access modern services.

We have broken energy monopolies throughout the region, and U.S. state regulators have helped their counterparts in Europe and Eurasia to: 

  • draft and adopt laws and regulations that have opened markets to new suppliers; 
  • establish wholesale and retail competition; and 

  • set environmental standards to protect consumers. 

On a granular level, we have helped to establish regulatory institutions in 15 countries, and helped found the Energy Regulators Regional Association, which brings together over 30 national regulators to accelerate energy reform and further the goal of open, transparent markets across the region.  

This work has been essential to the economic and democratic progress of these nations.  In less than a generation, 11 countries of the region are no longer foreign assistance beneficiaries, 22 have joined the World Trade Organization, 11 have acceded to the EU, and 12 have joined NATO. 

Energy was at the very core of this progress.  It should be acknowledged as one of our greatest foreign policy achievements since the end of the Cold War. 

But we cannot become complacent in our achievements or overlook the work still needed to be done.

Earlier I said that in spite of these successes, our engagement was now more important than ever. The Kremlin and Communist China have made it perfectly clear that they are more interested in self interest than self determination. 

In recent years, the Kremlin’s intentions in the region have become clear: to re-establish an authoritarian sphere of influence in Europe and Eurasia that would strip these nations of their very liberty.  In a similar, but more insidious fashion, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative became known as “China’s debt trap” for a reason.  

Our region is not immune.  We are already seeing Chinese Community Party investment in critical infrastructure across the region and especially in Southeast Europe. This model of subservience runs counter to the democratic values of the United States and the free world.  You cannot be accountable to your citizens and serve a foreign master.   

Energy independence is vital to preserving democracy in the region.  

Nations should be able to choose where their power comes from and how much they are willing to pay for it.  I also want to be clear that this is not about the Kremlin or the Chinese Communist Party.  The Energy Bridge advances USAID’s approach to development.  We are empowering our partners to make their own choices about their energy sources, their economic investments, and the shape of their democracies.  That is true self-reliance.  

That is exactly what the Energy Bridge is designed to do. Build on the work we have already done and continue our commitment to help countries make their own decisions which in turn help them be more self reliant. 

This initiative will connect European and Eurasian energy sector stakeholders with the finance, technologies, and operational expertise necessary to address significant critical infrastructure investment and management needs.

The Energy Bridge represents the next generation of our work in the region, building on decades of success and continued partnership with our EU allies while at the same time responding to today’s acute challenges.

Thank you for being here this morning.  I look forward to a dynamic discussion of this exciting opportunity.