Sunday

13th Oct 2019

Putin and Barroso in public scrap on EU energy law

  • Barroso (r) said he raised 'specific cases' of human rights abuses with Putin in private (Photo: Valentina Pop)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso took on Russian hardman Vladimir Putin in an unscripted battle of wits about EU energy law at a press event in Brussels on Thursday (24 February).

Mr Putin, in the EU capital for a meeting between his ministers and the EU commission, began the exchange by citing chapter and verse of the EU's Third Energy Package, a bundle of laws which obliges energy companies to split up production and distribution assets.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"This violates our common framework agreement, when it says that our enterprises are affected by this package while operating in Europe. We're talking about confiscation of Russian property here," he said, referring to an EU-Russia agreement from 1994.

Mr Barroso flatly contradicted him: "Thanks to Russian gas, many of our institutes work and our houses are warm. But we pay for it. We pay for it well. We are very good clients in the EU. Let me say very frankly, we believe our Third Energy Package is fully compatible with WTO [World Trade Organisation] rules, is non-discriminatory and is fully compatible with our bilateral agreements."

In a break with normal practice, where each VIP speaks once and then they move on to a new question, Mr Putin hit back: "We produce gas and we transport it. Why shouldn't we sell our property from the entrance of our pipeline to the EU?"

Mr Barroso had the last word. "I'm sure we will find an acceptable solution. But let me clearly say the following: We have adopted the Third Energy Package. For us and for the member states, it is now binding legislation," he said.

Mr Putin at several points tried to spook the EU with talk of high energy prices.

He said he had heard that oil could hit $220 a barrel because of Libya and that the Third Energy Package will see the EU pay more for gas. He also said gas will be more dear if the Union does not let Russia build its South Stream pipeline under the Black Sea.

Asked by media if the Arab revolutions could encourage Muslim uprisings in Russia's north Caucasus, he said he is "concerned" but quickly changed the subject and made fun of EU democracy-building in the Middle East instead.

"I remember not that long ago our partners called for free elections in the Palestinian autonomy. That's great. Good job. Then Hamas won, they declared it a terrorist organisation and started fighting it," he recalled.

He noted that Belgium cannot even form a government to illustrate why the West should not "interfere" in north Africa. "People in Russia love this country a lot. But it hasn't had a government for over 150 days," he said.

Human rights issues in Russia took a back seat in the press briefing. But Mr Barroso in his opening remarks said he had raised "specific cases" with Mr Putin in private.

"We expect Russia to respect its international commitments in the field of human rights," he said. "Respect for the rule of law is crucial for any modernisation effort," he added, referring to the Partnership for Modernisation, his own plan to swap high-end EU technology in return for reforms in Russia.

The main aim of the Putin visit was EU-Russia relationship-building. Both men smiled a lot during the energy law tit-fot-tat and said it is normal for partners to disagree.

The two sides signed a joint statement condemning violence in Libya and four documents relating to the Early Warning Mechanism, a protocol in which Russia sends the commission a letter when it cuts off gas to Belarus or Ukraine. An EU official said the energy documents are "nothing new, really."

Mr Putin and Mr Barroso have clashed publicly before.

At an EU-Russia summit in Moscow in 2009, Mr Putin told Mr Barroso he should not have talked about human rights in a separate meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Mr Barroso at the time said: "Human rights and rule of law are much more important than diplomacy."

Borrell hard on Russia in EU hearing

The EU should continue to expand in the Western Balkans and maintain sanctions on Russia, its next foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said.

Ukrainian president burns bridges in Europe

Ukraine's new president gleefully joined US leader Donald Trump in denigrating the EU back in July, a White House transcript of their phonecall has shown.

News in Brief

  1. Italy: EU cannot accept Turkish 'blackmail'
  2. Is a Brexit deal still possible?
  3. EU and UK to 'intensify' Brexit talks
  4. Norway hit by train strike over EU regulations
  5. Macron says he warned von der Leyen on Goulard
  6. France: EU will retaliate in aviation state aid battle
  7. EU considers new rules and agency against dirty money
  8. France against accession talks for North Macedonia, Albania

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us