Friday

22nd Mar 2019

EU summit: Nord Stream sneaks onto agenda

  • Dutch, French, German, and Russian leaders turn on Nord Stream I, back in 2011 (Photo: nordstream.com)

An east-west quarrel over the Nord Stream gas pipeline has sneaked onto the EU summit agenda, draft conclusions show.

The draft text, circulated by the EU Council to member states on Monday (7 December) and seen by EUobserver, says, in a segment on “energy union,” that future projects ought to serve the “common interest,” make “optimal use of existing infrastructure,” and benefit “energy security.”

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It adds: “Any new infrastructure should be fully in line with … reduction of energy dependency and diversification of suppliers.”

It also says, in a segment on the “single market,” that it's “crucial for … [EU] legislation to be effectively and uniformly applied.”

The text doesn’t name Nord Stream II (NSII) - a plan by Anglo-Dutch, Austrian, French, German, and Russian firms to double the capacity of Russia’s gas pipeline to Germany.

But it echoes NSII complaints voiced in a letter to EU Council chief Donald Tusk, on 30 November, by energy ministers from the Baltic states, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.

The letter, also seen by this website, said NSII is against common interests because it would see “eastern European transit countries with connecting transmission systems [to Ukraine] … lose their current position.”

It would pose “risk of infrastructure-degradation” in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine by bypassing their transit pipelines.

It would also “contribute to weakening of supply security” because it means “practically the entire volume of Russian gas imports would enter the EU in north-eastern Germany.”

The letter adds, on the single market, the EU must apply its "third energy package” laws on “ownership unbundling,” meaning Russian firm Gazprom couldn’t exercise full control of the project. The same laws, last year, saw Gazprom walk away from a pipeline scheme via Bulgaria.

'Up in arms'

The PMs of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, in a separate letter to Tusk on 29 November, seen by EUobserver, called for the “energy union” talks.

“It is critically important that any future infrastructure projects are in compliance with the core principles” of “energy security and diversification of energy sources” they said.

The main topics of the 17 and 18 December summit will be: migration; counter-terrorism; climate; Brexit; monetary union; and Russia sanctions.

One EU source said NSII “is rather on the margins, not a main issue.”

A second contact said: “The idea is to have a debate at the political level of 28 member states on the principles of the energy union, including energy security … plus the Ukrainian dimension.”

A third EU source said, referring to the four Visegrad states, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia: “The V4 is up in arms, so they’ll pick the fight, and Sefcovic is stirring them up.”

Maros Sefcovic, the Slovak EU commissioner in charge of energy union, has previously said NSII is against EU interests.

Border security

The draft summit text says the “unprecedented influx of migrants puts the Schengen [EU free movement zone] and asylum acquis under severe pressure.”

It notes the European Commission’s migrant relocation scheme is slow in getting up and running.

It calls for the EU to “rapidly address deficiencies in the functioning of hotspots,” referring to migrant processing centres in Greece.

It puts stress on keeping people out and sending as many of them home as possible, with EU leaders to “significantly enhance the control at the EU's external borders” and “ensure the actual return of people not authorised to stay.”

On counter-terrorism, it says EU states must “implement systematic and coordinated checks at external borders, including on individuals enjoying the right of free movement” the better to apprehend “foreign fighters.”

It also calls for more intelligence-sharing, via the Schengen Information System II, the EU joint police body Europol, the EU borders agency Frontex, and by sharing air passenger data in the so-called PNR scheme.

Brexit

The draft text has blank spaces on climate, pending the outcome of the Paris summit, and on the UK.

Tusk and British PM David Cameron earlier indicated that conclusive talks on British demads for EU reform, ahead of the UK’s In/Out referendum, will be held in February.

But the segment on monetary union - which calls for greater economic powers for EU institutions - might well rattle London, which fears eurozone integration could harm the City.

The draft text doesn't mention Russia economic sanctions.

But EU leaders are expected to forge an informal agreement to extend them by six months in January, when they expire, due to Moscow's non-compliance with the “Minsk” ceasefire accord.

Tusk: UK reform talks are 'difficult'

The European Council president said there is "no consensus" on British demands to cut benefits for EU citizens and urged EU leaders to find a compromise before February.

Tusk: Nord Stream II doesn't help

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has said Nord Stream II, a new Russia-Germany gas pipeline, is not in the EU’s interests.

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