Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker received Gerhard Schröder on Tuesday (5 April), the former Chancellor of Germany, who now works for Gazprom. The Commission however insisted the two met as old acquaintances.
Schröder, who lead Germany from 1998 to 2005, is currently the chairman of the board of Nord Stream AG, after having been hired as a global manager by the Rothschild investment bank. Nord Stream AG is the consortium that built and operates the Nord Stream pipeline between Russia and Germany, in which Gazprom holds a majority share.
There are hardly other more sensitive issues than the anti-trust probe against Gazprom, which the Commission started against the Russian gas export monopoly almost three years ago, and the issue of Nord Stream 2, a Gazprom project to double the capacity of the existing offshore pipeline.
Regarding the anti-trust probe, the latest news is that Gazprom and the European Commission are moving towards a “mutually acceptable” solution in resolving antitrust charges. Gazprom is seeking to avoid a fine, which under EU rules could be up to $7.6 billion, equal to 10 percent of its 2014 revenue, and settle the charges with concessions.
Regarding Nord Stream 2, word is out that despite the opposition of at least seven EU member countries, the Commission will okay the project. The last information the Commission has given officially is that it cannot decide, because its legal services lack all the necessary information.
The European Commission so far is only aware of general information about the project, and is therefore unable to make conclusive decisions, Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.
MEPs have warned that Nord Stream 2 is “a political project to divide Europe” and makes irrelevant attempts to build an Energy Union.
This background makes the meeting even more sensitive. Euractiv.com asked Margaritis Schinas, Juncker’s spokesperson in which capacity Schröder is visiting. The weekly program of the EuropeanCommission only mentions his capacity of former Chancellor.
Schinas insisted that the meeting was of a friendly nature.
“President Juncker has been a Prime Minister for 19 years. He has the privilege to have a first-name relationship with all the colleagues of his, who served in the European Council during this long period. He was the doyen of the European Council, before becoming President of the European Commission. He has always kept friendly, open relations with his former colleagues and he is delighted to see them whenever they are in Brussels,” Shinas said.
The spokesperson didn’t name Gazprom, but indicated that as for issues related to the energy field, Schröder would meet the Commissioner in charge.
“As for the other professional quality of the former chancellor, I understand there is a meeting with our Commissioner for Energy and Climate Miguel Arias Cañete,” Schinas said.
The meeting with Cañete did not appear in the executive’s weekly program published last Friday.
This is not the first time that high-flying lobbyists visit Juncker as “friends”. Last January the British press questioned Schinas about the capacity in which Juncker received former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Having attempted an EU career in 2008, and having lost out to Herman Van Rompuy, who then became Council President, Blair has worked as lobbyist for governments, sovereign wealth funds and companies including the bank JP Morgan, the bank, and the insurer Zurich International.