Krišjānis Kariņš, a European Parliament member from Latvia, is rapporteur on the proposal for a groundbreaking decision to be considered tomorrow (13 September).
The European Parliament stands united ahead of the vote on the proposal for setting up an information exchange mechanism involving the Commission in agreements between EU member countries and Russia, said Kariņš.
A debate on the proposed legislative text will be held this afternoon in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The Latvian centre-right MEP took up legislation proposed by the Commission following the 4 February 2011 EU summit, which required better coordination and consistency in the EU’s external relations with third countries, including the Union’s major gas supplier Russia.
As he gathered positions from the Parliament’s groups, Kariņš realised that MEPs wanted to go even further than the Commission’s legislative proposals, and to oblige member countries to involve the EU executive in their negotiations with Gazprom.
But the relations with the EU Council of Ministers, which represents the 27 member countries, were of a “completely different” nature, he said.
“In the Council ... there is quite strong opposition to this legislation as such. So despite the fact that the Council asked for this measure, when it actually saw the measure, it didn’t like it,” he said, speaking in English.
Kariņš, who was born in the United States, completed his doctorate in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996. Soon after he moved to Latvia. He was one of the founders of the centre-right New Era party, and served as an MP and economy minister.
Council dilutes proposals
Kariņš added that a majority of countries didn’t like the proposal, so it was diluted in order to gather a majority of support from member states.
Indeed, the text to be voted on tomorrow, gives leeway to countries to keep the confidentiality of their agreements with third countries, sharing this information with the Commission, but keeping it confidential from other member states. Also, when agreements are concluded by commercial entities rather than governments, the countries are not obliged to submit their content to the EU executive.
The Council also pushed for the Commission to be present at negotiations with third countries only if the member state concerned invites it, the rapporteur said.
Asked by EurActiv to provide details on the individual positions of member states, Kariņš said: “The only larger country that was really pushing for this legislation was Poland. The other countries supporting this were smaller countries,” he said.
Of the EU’s six largest countries (Germany, France, UK, Italy, Spain and Poland), three are major importers of Russian gas - Germany, France and Poland. But Germany and Italy have privileged relations with Gazprom and get the best prices. The paradox is that countries closer to Russia, such as former Soviet republic Lithuania, pay twice as much as Germany.
Asked by EurActiv whether text in the legislation calling for the “development of multilateral intergovernmental agreements involving several member states or the Union as a whole” vis-à-vis relations with Gazprom was wishful thinking, he said this was “directional”.
“It’s pointing in the direction this legislation is heading. And of course the day the Commission would be the counterpart of Gazprom or any major provider, would be the day when European consumers would have a better day,” he said.
The MEP said the major political groups were supportive of the proposed text, but the Socialists and the Greens wanted to push through amendments making the text stronger. The risk, he said, was that instead of being adopted at first reading, the whole process could drag on longer.
This, he explained, would be largely useless, because the Parliament would encounter “exactly the same difficulties” in Council at second reading as well. Asked if some MEPs were not in fact trying to sink the legislation by pushing forward stronger legislation, he said this was “pure speculation”.
Kariņš said that the legislation provides for a review clause in three years' time.
“If Parliament has such a unified view that this legislation needs to be strong, I believe in three years time it will still have this view. I think that over time, this legislation, which is quite a bold step in the direction of a more coherent EU energy policy, will be tightened up,” he said.