The development comes ahead of the 21 December EU summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Energy issues are expected to feature high on the agenda, the second this year after a June meeting in St. Petersburg.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on 14 December that his country would submit to the EU an updated draft agreement on transnational gas pipelines during the summit.
According to press reports, Novak said the draft agreement basically features only two major facilities - the Nord Stream gas pipeline with the OPAL and NEL pipelines, which connect Nord Stream with Europe's gas infrastructure, and the South Stream gas pipeline.
Russia expects that the agreement could form the basis for exempting its pipelines from the EU’s energy liberalisation rules, which grant energy companies access to infrastructure held by others, Novak said, according to the same reports.
Russia says the EU rules were discouraging Gazprom from investing in pipelines and gas storage facilities as they would grant others access to its infrastructure. That’s why Russia is reluctant to give “third parties” access to its pipelines and especially to South Stream, whose route largely coincides with that of Nabucco West, a planned pipeline which has the political support of Brussels and aims to diversify gas supplies from sources other than Russia.
The Russian authorities want Brussels to give the pipelines the status of the so-called TEN-E, or Trans-European Energy Network, which would exempt them from rules on third-party access and the separation of gas trading from gas network operations.
So far the EU has proved reluctant to give priority status to the Gazprom-favoured pipelines. On 12 December, Novak and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger met in Cyprus in the framework of the so-called EU-Russia Permanent Partnership for Energy. According to a statement, they “welcomed” the putting into service in October 2012 of the second string of the Nord Stream pipeline and “noted” the launch of the South Stream project in December (see background).
Exemptions possible if ‘certain conditions are met’
“We welcome that Russia takes the initiative to discuss Nord Stream and South Stream, because member states have asked the Commission to coordinate the EU position towards the project, for example the inter-governmental agreements and the environmental impact assesements,” Oettinger's spokesperson, Marlene Holzner, told EurActiv yesterday (17 December).
Holzner added that EU liberalisation rules did provide for a number of exemptions “if certain conditions are met”. This concerns, for example, the third-party access, she said.
“We are ready to interpret the existing law in a pragmatic way and are engaged in ongoing discussions with the Russian Federation on exemptions foreseen under the third energy package,” she said.
Holzner also said that the Commission was aware that Russia will propose a general EU-Russia agreement on infrastructure, as Novak had announced during the Cyprus meeting.
In the communiqué from the Cyprus meeting, both sides stress “the progress made in establishing a joint EU-Russia Energy Roadmap until 2050” and their interest to pursue the discussions on the outstanding issues with the aim of its finalisation.
The so-called “2050 gas roadmap” was already in the programme of the EU-Russia summit held in Brussels in February 2011.
“We take note of the Russian proposal and will look at it,” Holzner said.