Energy charter leadership contest down to two-horse race

Urban Rusnák, the current incumbent, has filed a case against the EU at the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labour Organization, to complain against the EU's decision not to re-appoint him. [@SecGenEnCharter / Twitter]

The leadership contest at the Brussels-based Energy Charter Treaty Secretariat appears to be down to two candidates, the current secretary-general, Slovakia’s Urban Rusnák, and Guy Lentz from Luxembourg, EURACTIV has learned from sources familiar with the situation.

The European Commission, which steers negotiations on the ECT modernisation for the 27-member European Union, has already voiced formal objections to re-appointing the Slovak incumbent for another five years. It will update the 27 national representatives on the state of play in the race to lead the ECT on Tuesday (30 March).

Rusnák has held the office since 2012. Lentz is currently the energy attaché for Luxembourg at the EU Council of Ministers, the institution representing the 27 EU member states.

EU countries have until the end of March to file applications and EURACTIV understands there is no third candidate. “Guy Lentz applied on 22 December,” said an EU diplomatic source with insider knowledge of the situation. A second EU source confirmed that Lentz and Rusnák were the only contenders in the race.

Campaigners have criticised the Energy Charter Treaty for hampering climate action. The treaty caught worldwide media attention last month when German energy giant RWE used it to claim €1.4 billion in compensation from the Netherlands over its planned coal phase-out.

France has also expressed frustration with the slow pace of negotiation to reform the treaty, saying the EU should consider withdrawing from the ECT if a unanimous agreement cannot be found to align the charter with the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

France puts EU withdrawal from Energy Charter Treaty on the table

The European Union and its member states should draw the consequences of the current stalemate in multilateral talks aimed at reforming the Energy Charter Treaty and consider a coordinated withdrawal, Paris has said in a letter seen by EURACTIV.

The leadership succession battle at the head of the ECT Secretariat has been running in the background for months. And it’s been something of a shadow boxing exercise until now.

The “objection from the European Union” over Rusnák’s reappointment, sent in an official letter dated 30 September, is available on the Energy Charter Secretariat website. Decisions on the ECT are taken by consensus, meaning all EU member states supported the decision not to reappoint him.

The Slovak official was visibly unhappy with the initiative. On 18 February, he filed a case with the International Labour Organisation’s Administrative Tribunal (ILOAT) “against the decision of the [Energy Charter] Conference of 1 October 2020 not to approve the launch of the reappointment procedure.”

“I would like to underline that contrary to some rumours, in the Rules of Procedure, there is neither a limit to the number of mandates of the Secretary-General, nor to the number of times a candidate can be nominated by Contracting Parties,” Rusnák told EURACTIV in emailed comments.

People familiar with the matter say Rusnák’s candidacy is supported by Kazakhstan, which officially filed the application to renew the Slovak’s mandate for another five years.

The point was added to the agenda of the Council’s energy working group on Tuesday (30 March) for an “update” from the European Commission.

Controversy

Rusnák’s reappointment at the Energy Charter Secretariat has been shrouded in controversy. Two years ago, the Slovak official came under fire in a leaked internal report that made a detailed analysis of the body’s “misfunctioning“.

The internal report, written by the ECT’s then assistant secretary-general, Masami Nakata, said problems at the secretariat were “principally attributable to a failed organisational restructuring” led by Rusnák.

In the report, Rusnák came under fire for his “management methods” including the repeated “unprofessional and non-transparent selection of officials” and unlawful dismissal of senior staff members, which Nakata said was “undermining the performance of the organisation as a whole”.

Leaked report reveals ‘misfunctioning’ of Energy Charter Treaty amid EU reform calls

A confidential internal report, obtained by EURACTIV, lists the multiple failings of the Energy Charter secretariat, at a time when the treaty is undergoing a major revision process and is being used by Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline in a first-time legal proceeding against the EU.

Nakata was dismissed from office at the ECT shortly after the report was published on EURACTIV. In explaining her dismissal, Rusnák said the Japanese official had directly leaked the report to EURACTIV, a claim which this media outlet firmly rejected in a statement to Nakata’s lawyer.

Rusnák also alleged that Nakata’s report “contains confidential and personal information, as well as intentionally malicious and false allegations against me and other colleagues at the Secretariat.”

In his application for the job, Rusnák highlighted his “vision” for the Energy Charter Treaty in 2026: “a niche organisation, standing for ‘protecting the sustainable energy investment for global low-carbon transition””.

The European Commission did not reply to EURACTIV’s emails asking for comment.

As for Luxembourg, its position on the ECT has shifted. Claude Turmes, the Grand Duchy’s energy minister who used to be at the forefront of calls to withdraw from the ECT, recently backtracked, saying the EU should first aim to reform the beleaguered post-Soviet-era charter.

Luxembourg backtracks on Energy Charter Treaty withdrawal

Claude Turmes, the Grand Duchy’s energy minister who used to be at the forefront of calls to withdraw from the Energy Charter Treaty, has backtracked on his earlier statements, saying the EU should first redouble efforts to reform the beleaguered post Soviet-era charter.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Josie Le Blond]

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