The European Council decided on Monday (6 June) that gas-related intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) between member states and third countries would be vetted by the Commission before they are signed. For non-gas related IGAs, a lighter procedure will apply.
Meeting in Luxembourg, the energy ministers of the member states gave their green light to a deal which has been in preparation for more than a year, and which was triggered by the European Commission’s findings over the Gazprom-sponsored South Stream gas pipeline.
As early as December 2013, the executive found that the bilateral agreements for the construction of South Stream – concluded between Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria – are all in breach of EU law. South Stream was cancelled in December 2014
The security of the EU’s gas supply remains a highly topical issue, given the tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
Now the European Commission will conduct an assessment of gas-related IGAs before they are signed. In addition, member states shall keep the Commission informed both before the start and regularly during the negotiations of all IGAs.
For non-gas related IGAs, the member states may request the executive to make a previous assessment. All non-gas related IGAs shall be communicated to the Commission “upon ratification”.
The agreement opens the door for the European Council to start negotiations with the European Parliament with a view to the final adoption of the proposal.
In addition, the Council discussed changes to the regulation concerning measures to safeguard the security of gas supplies. The Commission found in 2014 that South Eastern Europe and the Baltic states still remain vulnerable to major disruptions of gas supply.
The main changes proposed by the Commission include mandatory regional preventive action plans and emergency plans, as well as a mandatory solidarity principle in extreme situations. According to the solidarity principle countries should give priority to their neighbour’s vulnerable consumers, over their own industrial gas needs.
Ministers agree that regional cooperation was needed, but there was no consensus over the Commission’s proposal to establish pre-defined regional groupings of states. In particular, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Austria tabled a non-paper with alternative proposals.
Several ministers argued that national risk assessments were better suited to handle disruption of gas supplies.