Thursday

29th Feb 2024

EU commission changes thinking on Russian pipeline

  • Guenther Oettinger is a more Russia-friendly energy commissioner than his Latvian predecessor (Photo: European Parliament)

German energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger on Tuesday (2 March) for the first time signaled openness on behalf of the EU executive towards South Stream, a Russian gas pipeline running through the Black Sea, and seen as a rival to Europe's similar project, Nabucco.

"South Stream could be backed by the European Commission on condition that it meets the technical requirements for security," he said on the sidelines of an energy forum in Bulgaria, AFP reports.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

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

... or subscribe as a group

Mr Oettinger argued that the Gazprom-backed project would "increase the capacity" for gas imports in Europe and "set up a new infrastructure," alluding to the fact that currently 80 percent of Russia's exports to the EU transits through Ukraine.

It is a widespread view among German experts that the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis, which also had an impact on EU consumers, was Kiev's fault and an "alternative route" via the Black Sea would prevent a repeat performance.

Mr Oettinger's comments are a first, however.

So far, the EU commission has stuck to the line that it neither opposes nor backs the construction of South Stream, which is seen as competition to Europe's own project, the Nabucco pipeline, and which would bring gas from the Caspian region directly to southern and eastern Europe via Turkey.

The Nabucco project has only slowly developed since 2002, when gas officials from the five countries involved - Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria - gathered in Vienna and dubbed the pipeline "Nabucco" after listening to Verdi's eponymous opera.

Lack of political support, haggles on transit conditions with Turkey and a pricing dispute with supplier country Azerbaijan have delayed construction.

Meanwhile, Gazprom has mounted a counter-offensive, as it currently holds the transport monopoly on gas coming from the Caspian region, courting southern and central European states for its own project, South Stream.

Unlike Nabucco, which is promoted by gas companies and former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, South Stream is being promoted directly by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who managed to secure a handful of political agreements with Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia or Austria to back the scheme.

Croatia on Tuesday also signed up as a potential buyer of South Stream gas.

If built, South Stream will tap the same resources as Nabucco was intended for - the gas-rich Caspian region, which currently can only export via Soviet-era infrastructure transiting Russia. Nabucco was designed precisely to lower Europe's dependence on Russian gas imports, which reaches almost 100 percent in Bulgaria and Hungary.

Mr Oettinger did repeat the commission line, that Brussels is looking at developing this "southern corridor." "The European Union wants a direct connection to the Caspian and the Middle East region," he said in Sofia.

But his comments came amid strong criticism from Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who lashed out at the European Union and the United States for paying Nabucco only lip service.

"All countries in western Europe and the United States have declared the project a priority. But, what I see is that it is a priority only in words," he said. "The US and the European Commission must make it clear why this project is still at point zero."

EU splashes out €2.3 billion on anti-gas crisis projects

The European Commission has approved 43 gas and electricity projects worth €2.3 billion aimed at softening the effects of any future energy crises. It said there is a risk that the Nabucco gas pipeline will not go ahead.

EU supply chain law fails, with 14 states failing to back it

Member states failed on Wednesday to agree to the EU's long-awaited Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence Directive, after 13 EU ambassadors declared abstention and one, Sweden, expressed opposition (there was no formal vote), EUobserver has learned.

Angry farmers block Brussels again, urge fix to 'unfair' prices

Following weeks of demonstrations across Europe, farmers returned to Brussels to protest over unfair competition in prices, as EU agriculture ministers met just a few metres away to discuss a response. The police used water cannon and tear gas.

Latest News

  1. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats
  2. EU won't yet commit funding UN agency in Gaza amid hunger
  3. EU Commission clears Poland's access to up to €137bn EU funds
  4. Right of Reply: The EU-ACP Samoa agreement
  5. The macabre saga of Navalny's corpse
  6. Belgium braces for Flemish far-right gains, deadlock looms
  7. Podcast: Hyperlocal meets supranational
  8. Von der Leyen appeals for 'new EU defence mindset'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us