The European Union’s principles of free trade and reciprocity in energy markets could be extended to sub-Saharan and Middle East nations under a new action plan for the Euro-Mediterranean energy market.

Driven in part by fears over energy security, Ministers from Europe, north Africa and the Middle East have agreed on a six-year plan to harmonise energy legislation and policies and improve interconnections.

In a Declaration signed in Cyprus in mid-December, Ministers also agreed on the eventual integration of other countries, such as Libya and sub-Saharan nations, into the Euro-Mediterranean energy market. They also agreed to work together to diversify energy sources and promote energy efficiency.

The EU and Mediterranean countries have been involved in a dialogue on energy issues since the launch in 1995 of the “Barcelona Process”, aimed at creating a Free Trade Area by 2010. However, progress has been slow owing to unambitious objectives on the EU’s side and a lack of willingness from some of the EU’s southern partners.

Under the action plan signed last month, the EU says it will spend some Euros 3.2 billion on infrastructure project of common interest, including establishing electricity interconnections between EU countries and Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia.