The Austro-Hungarian empire cannot be revived While Sarko is chasing around France and, now, North Africa, trying to sort out the floundering €90bn merger between Suez and Gaz de France, bringing in perhaps EDF, Total or Sonatrach, the Algerian gas company, the Austrians are fruitlessly trying to engineer their own big energy group in central Europe. OMV, in which the Austrian government is the largest shareholder with 31.5%, has built up an 18.6% stake in Hungarian oil and gas firm MOL and has offered a friendly takeover. Oh, Vienna! You mean nothing to us, respond the Magyars, who have bought up 30% of their own shares and parked them with some strange bedfellows as the rules limit MOL’s stake to 10% of itself. Gyorgy Mosonyi, MOL chief executive, said this would be no merger of equals and, anyway, it would reduce competition in the region. In true EU fashion the Hungarian premier Ferenc Gyurcsány has said the offer can hardly be friendly when it’s from a state-owned foreign – fellow European, in truth – firm trying to make a hostile takeover. Shades of Eon and Endesa. But, in the energy-starved Europe, the plot thickens. This is not just an everyday takeover tale of consolidation. The two groups are heavily involved in Nabucco, the planned pipline linking gas-rich central Asia with south-east Europe that bypasses Russia and is seen by the EU as a more than useful instrument in the battle to reduce dependence on Putin, Gazprom and the other oligarch-run enterprises. Gazprom, it just so happens, has signed a deal with Italy’s state-owned Eni to build a rival €10bn pipeline running under the Black Sea through Bulgaria and Greece to southern Italy. The pipeline would also undercut Turkey’s plans to transport gas under the Caspian to Europe. MOL suspects that OMV is working hand in glove with Gazprom in its takeover approach while both, meanwhile, have shown interest in South Stream – and are working on Nabucco. Robert Amsterdam, the Canadian international lawyer who was retained by Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, the jailed Yukos chief, has said: “It would be inappropriate to argue that OMV is just another ambassador for Russian interests in Europe but it is clear where the Austrians (who get 80% of their gas from the Russian bear) place their loyalty.” He suspects that OMV and MOL are fighting to be the prime partner of Gazprom in developing its central European hub. Given that the Greeks and the Bulgarians and even the Turks are showing interest in South Stream, it’s pretty obvious that the EU’s drive for a unified energy policy and single market is hardly worth the paper it’s written on in the face of the Kremlin-backed offensive.