Thursday

28th Jan 2021

EU Commission could get say on Russia gas pipeline

  • First Nord Stream 2 pipes, made by German firm Europipe, arrived in Mukran, Germany, last October (Photo: Nord Stream 2 / Axel Schmidt)

EU states have given initial backing for the European Commission to negotiate the legal model of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia.

Pablo Micallef, a spokesman for the Maltese EU presidency, told EUobserver that “some 13” member states spoke out on the plan when EU energy ministers met for informal talks in Brussels on Monday.

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  • Sefcovic was "optimistic" about getting the mandate formalised (Photo: European Commission)

The incoming Estonian EU presidency is now expected to convene a working group to take things forward.

The Danish energy minister, Lars Christian Lilleholt, who was among the 13 EU backers, said: “I’m very satisfied. It was the best thing that could have come out of the meeting”.

The mandate will have to be formally approved later down the line in a “reinforced qualified majority” vote by member states, a higher than usual threshold of 72 percent of EU countries representing 65 percent of its population.

Maros Sefcovic, the EU energy commissioner who drafted the proposal, told the Reuters news agency: “I’m definitely optimistic about getting the [formal] mandate, but I know this is just the beginning of the debate."

Nord Stream 2 is to concentrate 70 percent of Russian gas supplies to Europe in one route to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

But its critics, which include the Nordic states, the Baltic countries, Poland, and the US, say it would harm EU energy security and undermine Ukraine, a Western ally, by making Ukraine’s transit pipes obsolete.

EU laws

Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, the Commission’s energy spokeswoman, told EUobserver on Tuesday that the Commission wanted to talk to Russia on whether the offshore part of Nord Stream 2 should be covered by the EU’s so-called third energy package.

That EU law would oblige Russian state firm Gazprom to open up its Nord Stream 2 monopoly to EU competitors - a demand which led Russia to stop a previous project, the South Stream pipeline under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

But Itkonen said the talks would “not [be] about a [Commission] veto, it is not about the future of the pipeline, not about the Commission approving it or not”.

She said the Commission-Russia talks would be designed to give “legal certainty” on Nord Stream 2 and that they would be “nothing spectacular or extraordinary” because EU officials had held similar discussions with “third countries” on other projects.

The Nord Stream 2 regulatory framework is currently being negotiated between Germany and Russia.

German, Austrian, French, and Anglo-Dutch firms - Uniper, Wintershall, OMV, Engie, and Shell - are to take part in the project, with Germany and Austria keen to press ahead.

Neither the German nor the Austrian minister spoke out on Monday, EU sources told Reuters, but Germany and Austria recently attacked the US over its threat to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 investors.

“We decide who supplies us with energy and how they do it”, the German and Austrian foreign ministers said in a joint statement on 15 June.

Ukraine unhappy

Pavlo Klimkin, the Ukrainian foreign minister, told Reuters in Paris on Monday that Nord Stream 2 "would have disastrous consequences for the energy security of the European Union and would make the EU dependent on one source."

"Maybe some companies will benefit for the time being, but in the long-run it will lead nowhere”, he said.

He added that there was no progress on Russia ending hostilities in east Ukraine.

"How can you trust Russia in setting up a unique source of gas supply?”, he said, referring to broader EU and US concerns over Russia’s aggressive behaviour toward neighbouring states.

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