Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Signs of tension after EU move on Gazprom

  • EU and Russian leaders at the launch party for Russia's Nord Stream pipeline last year (Photo: nordstream.com)

The European Commission says its probe into suspected price-fixing by Gazprom has nothing to do with EU-Russia relations. But Gazprom says it does.

Commission spokesman Antoine Colombani in Brussels on Wednesday (5 September) took pains to portray the investigation, unveiled on Tuesday, as a run-of-the-mill commercial matter.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

When asked if the Russian authorities had reacted to the move, he said: "To clarify, this is an investigation which concerns Gazprom, which is a company active in the EU single market, which sells gas to the EU, and so we are looking at the behaviour of this company. This does not concern Russia."

He noted that it involves Gazprom activity in eight EU countries - Bulgaria, The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia.

But he reiterated: "This is an investigation into a company [Gazprom] and its relations with other companies ... We do not deal with member states directly."

He also tried to take the spotlight off Lithuania, a former Soviet outpost which has rotten relations with Russia and which first called for EU action against Gazprom last year.

Colombani said the commission decided to act not just because of Lithuania, but also due to its own "monitoring" and due to information from "market players." He added that the commission case "relieves [EU] national authorities from doing their own investigations."

The Kremlin had as of Wednesday afternoon said nothing on the subject directly.

But a communique from Gazprom's "information division" shortly after Colombani's press briefing indicated that the state-owned firm sees the affair in a different light.

The company said it "scrupulously abides by all the provisions of international law and national legislation in all of the countries where [it] conducts business."

It added: "We expect ... it will be taken into account that Gazprom, registered outside the jurisdiction of the EU, is a business entity empowered, according to the legislation of the Russian federation, with special social functions and a status of a strategic organisation, administered by the government."

Meanwhile, at least one aspect of the investigation is likely to touch on international relations.

Part of the probe is to look into Gazprom behaviour which "prevented the diversification of supply of gas."

Bulgaria just last week agreed a double-barrel deal with Gazprom to build the so-called South Stream pipeline through its territory at the same time as getting an 11 percent price cut.

South Stream is Russia's answer to Nabucco, an EU-backed pipeline scheme to end Russia's monopoly on Caspian-Sea-region exports.

The commission's energy spokeswoman, Marlene Holzner, at the same briefing on Wednesday said that if the Bulgarian deal violates EU law the commission can launch "infringement proceedings" to get it changed.

Given Russia's track record of cutting off energy supplies to settle disputes with Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine, she noted "there is no indication whatsoever from the Russian authorities that there is a problem for deliveries of gas to Europe" in the coming winter.

Holzner added that if any EU supplier does cut off gas because of "a technical thing, or whatever," EU countries have been told to stockpile at least 30 days' worth of the fuel.

EU officials distance themselves from Gazprom stunt

Current and former top EU officials on Monday denied that they have any connection with Gazprom in a yachting project which has been flying the EU flag for the past six years but which is now sponsored by the Russian firm.

Opinion

Nord Stream and Gazprom and the liberalisation of the EU gas market

With Nord Stream's construction now a foregone conclusion, questions are being raised as to what its launch will mean for the European gas market. Given present market conditions and the ongoing processes of the European market liberalisation and integration, Nord Stream opening may contribute to gradual change in the way Gazprom is doing business in the EU, write Agata Loskot-Strachota and Lukasz Antas.

Vietnam jails journalist critical of EU trade deal

A journalist who had demanded the EU postpone its trade deal with Vietnam until human rights improved has been sentenced to 15 years in jail. The EU Commission says it first needs to conduct a detailed analysis before responding.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit prompted finance exodus from UK to France
  2. Italian PM Conte wins confidence vote in Senate
  3. Borrell washes hands of EU's Venezuela policy
  4. Russia backs Greece in eastern Mediterranean dispute
  5. 'Ski-holiday' Switzerland reaches new infection high
  6. Germany extends lockdown, others expected to follow
  7. Barnier to be Brexit special adviser to von der Leyen
  8. EU commisioner to visit Bosnia's Lipa migrant camp

Budget deal struck, with Hungary threat still hanging

Ultimately, the European Parliament managed to squeeze an extra €16bn in total - which will be financed with competition fines the EU Commission hands out over the next seven years, plus reallocations within the budget.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  2. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  3. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference
  4. EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex
  5. Untapped potential of the single market could boost European recovery
  6. Biden's 'Age of Aquarius'? Mars and Venus will clash over China
  7. The new dimension of 'ever-closer union'
  8. What do new CDU chief's pro-Russia views mean for Europe?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us