Bulgaria lacks political will to build interconnectors, says Commission

Bulgaria's gas grid. [Bulgargaz]

A Commission official said and repeated during a public event yesterday (5 March) that Bulgaria, which is almost 100% reliant on Russian gas, lacks the political will to build interconnectors with its neighbours and decrease its dependence.

Brendan Devlin, advisor in the Commission’s DG energy, spoke at a public event, organised by the Martens Centre for European Studies, a think-tank of the EPP party. Better energy interconnection between member states is a central part of the executive’s plans to create an EU Energy Union. 

“There are a host of possibilities, but there are prevented from happening, not because of any physical problems, but because of regulatory constraints, and regulatory constraints are the result of political restraint, imposed by the governments of the region. It’s not a physical problem, it’s a failure of political will, and a failure to implement the Third Energy package in its entirety in the countries involved,” Devlin said.

Devlin mentioned the recent meeting in Sofia on 9 February of the high-level group for South Eastern Europe. The meeting was set up by Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? to address the problems of the region following the cancellation of the Russia-favoured South Stream pipeline, which would have passed through Bulgaria.

But he said that this meeting basically discussed findings of the Commission dating back to 2008, because not much progress had been made since.

The Commission official gave several examples.

  • A gas pipeline project connecting Sofia to the city of Nis in Serbia has sufficient funds set aside for it, but the construction was not moving forward because of “unwillingness on part of the local authorities to actually build the project,” he said.
  • The same applies for the interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria (known as GBI, or Stara Zagora – Komotini). He said, “private corporate interests” were “not interested in going forward”. But he added that there was no reason why the public authorities could not insist on the project being built.
  • A third stalled project mentioned by the official was the Kulata-Sidirokastro reverse gas flow interconnector between Bulgaria and Greece. It would move gas from the already existing Revithoussa LNG terminal and from the future LNG plant, which may be at Kavala, in Northern Greece.
  • Bulgaria and Turkey were still unable to agree on reverse flows on the existing trans-Balkan pipeline. Bulgaria and Romania have not agreed reverse flows at Negru Voda, on the Romania-Bulgaria interconnector, Devlin said.

Devlin argued that Bulgaria in particular had a strong future in a much more liberalised energy market, because it has the highest number of contiguous states. It has borders with Romania, Serbia, Greece, Macedonia and Turkey, and “has a gas network which is a perfect circle through which you can wheel gas in different markets”.

“It’s all there, it’s simply needing a greater amount of political will”, Devlin said.

He concluded by saying that the Commission feared that “a new proposal for a huge pipeline” could once again delay the immediate gains that can be made today with relatively small effort and resources.

Bulgaria only appears to be interested in big projects. The country is spearheading a hypothetical revival of the Nabucco pipeline, and wants Russia to return to the South Stream project.

>> Read: Bulgaria wants to revive Nabucco, Azerbaijan says pipeline name ‘not important’

Bulgarian MEP Vladimir Uruchev, who was one of the speakers at the conference, was asked by EURACTIV to respond to the criticism.

Uruchev strongly denied any lack of political will. He said that the interconnectors had been the priority of several Bulgarian governments, and that the obstacle for completing the projects had been the lack of public funds.  

Central and Southeastern European countries, largely dependent on Russian gas supplies, are starting work on a plan to build gas infrastructure, and should count on having at least three different sources of gas.

Commission Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? said that a high-level working group for gas connectivity in central and eastern Europe, which had its first meeting in Sofia, should come up with an action plan on priority gas projects by June.

>> Read: Šef?ovi? sees three sources of gas for Central Europe

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