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19th Aug 2018

Poland presses EU on Russian gas pipeline

  • Russian firm Gazprom aims to start NordStream II construction this year (Photo: nord-stream.com)

Poland is putting pressure on the European Commission (EC) to rule whether a new Russian gas pipeline conforms with EU law.

Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo told press after an EU summit in Brussels on Friday (21 October) that “more and more countries are highlighting the role of the commission in Nord Stream [the pipeline]”.

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  • Szydlo and Szymanski at the EU summit on Friday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

“We expect the commission to fulfil its duties, to defend the directives that we passed, to check whether all the norms, conditions for such an investment are being respected. Our strong voice was supported by the the Visegrad Group [a club containing Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia], Baltic, and Balkan countries”, she said.

Konrad Szymanski, Poland’s EU affairs minister, said that Nordic states are also “in favour of a clear stance of the commission on the legal situation of Nord Stream”.

He said EU institutions and member states should take “shared responsibility” for deciding on the pipeline.

Poland has so far taken the lead in trying to block Nord Stream II.

The Russian pipeline is to ship huge volumes of gas to Germany from 2019, bypassing Poland and Ukraine, and making Germany more secure and central Europe less secure in energy supply terms.

The Polish anti-trust regulator recently raised a red flag on Nord Stream II, spooking some of the Western investors involved.

If the commission were to rule that its offshore parts must fully comply with EU energy laws, reducing Russia’s control over the infrastructure, the project could be put in doubt.

Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in June that EU lawyers were in talks with German regulators to find the right “legal framework” for the scheme, but he has not yet said what that might be.

Denmark, Finland, and Sweden also have to give permits for Nord Stream II to use their maritime zones.

The chief of the Swedish armed forces, last week, said Sweden should say No because the Russian military would reserve the right to access the structures.

The pipeline talks come during a nadir in EU-Russia relations due to its bombing of civilians in Syria and its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia still has friends in the European Council, however.

Italy on Thursday blocked a proposal by France, Germany, Poland, and the UK to threaten to blacklist Russian officials over the Syria air strikes.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, despite her tough stance on Syria and Ukraine, has declined to speak out on Nord Stream II, while the second power in Germany, the centre-left SPD party, is strongly in favour of it.

Szydlo said on Friday it was “wrong” of Italy to have blocked the Syria sanctions threat.

Szymanski said the same in an opinion article in the Financial Times newspaper, adding that Nord Stream II would make a mockery of the EU existing Russia sanctions, imposed over Ukraine.

It would mean “the EU in effect gives succour to a regime whose aggression it seeks to punish through sanctions” he said.

Symanski told press on Friday that Poland had also highlighted Russia’s anti-EU propaganda campaign and its influence operations in Europe as points of concern during the summit.

He added that EU states “still need to find a common denominator, because countries far from the Russian border don't see it as a problem”.

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Nord Stream 2: Business unusual

Neither sanctions, EU law nor politics can stop the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from being built, its small army of European lobbyists has said.

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