Commission warns Bulgaria against foul play over South Stream

South Stream pipeline route options. [Think Defence/Flickr]

The European Commission has warned Bulgaria against attempts to pass a law apparently aimed at circumventing the Third Energy Package, as South Stream is reportedly regarded as an interconnector, not a pipeline.

According to Dnevnik, the EURACTIV partner in Bulgaria, two MPs from the ruling Socialist party have tabled amendments to the country’s energy law, according to which South Stream will be considered an interconnector, and not a pipeline. Thus, the Gazprom-favoured project would be exempted from the Third Package on energy liberalisation.

The Commission has sent a letter to the Bulgarian minister of energy Dragomir Stoynev, asking for clarifications regarding the draft legislation.

Sabine Berger, spokesperson to energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, told EURACTIV the EU executive was “concerned” about the compatibility of these amendments with EU legislation.

She added that the letter sent by Oettinger was not part of a legal procedure, as these amendments were not yet Bulgarian legislation, but made it plain that the amendments tabled in the Bulgarian parliament were closely scrutinised.

EURACTIV asked Berger if South Stream could be considered dead following the Crimea crisis, and the decision of EU leaders at their last summit on 20-21 March to come up with a plan for decreasing energy dependence, primarily from Russia. 

Oettinger’s spokesperson admitted that the Crimea events were likely to affect the pace of contacts with the Russian side. The EU executive is mediating in a legal imbroglio between the six EU countries participating in the South Stream project and Serbia, an EU candidate country (see background).

The last contacts, which took place between the Commission and the member states involved, was a dinner held in Brussels on 3 March, and a meeting at expert level between the Commission and the Russian side held on 14 March, she said.

South Stream is facing problems, as the Italian oil major ENI, one of the key shareholders in South Stream, has expressed second thoughts about the project.

Also, Gennady Timchenko, the Russian tycoon presented as the winner of the tender to build the Bulgarian stretch of the pipeline, appears on the US blacklist adopted in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Bulgaria, the country where the offshore section of the pipeline reaches EU soil, has become increasingly nervous about the project. Stoynev jhas called the project ‘strategic” as in his words it is expected to create 5.000 new jobs and boost economic growth in the impoverished country.  


South Stream is a Russian project for a natural gas pipeline. As planned, the pipeline would run under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and continue through Serbia, with two branches to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Croatia. From Serbia the pipelines crosses Hungary and Slovenia before reaching Italy [see map]. Its planned capacity is 63 billion cubic metres per year (bcm/y).

The key partner for Russia's Gazprom in the South Stream project is Italy's largest energy company, ENI.

Russia signed intergovernmental agreements with:

Bulgaria – January 18, 2008;
Serbia – January 25, 2008;
Hungary – February 28, 2008;
Greece – April 29, 2008;
Slovenia – November 14, 2009;
Croatia – March 2, 2010;
Austria – April 24, 2010.

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