EU to vet member states’ gas deals with Russia

Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañeteand Dutch Minister Henk Kamp. Energy Council, 6 June 2016. [European Council]

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

Commission wants to vet member states’ energy deals

Member states’ energy deals with non-EU nations should be scrutinised by the European Commission before they are signed, according to a draft plan for the flagship Energy Union that outlines a strategy to diversify energy suppliers.

Russia says South Stream project is over

Russia scrapped the South Stream pipeline project to supply gas to southern Europe, without crossing Ukraine, on Monday (December 1), citing EU objections, and instead named Turkey as its preferred partner for an alternative pipeline, with a promise of hefty discounts.

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.

EU countries must power neighbours during shortages, under new rules

European Union countries will be obliged to help power households and social services such as healthcare in neighbouring member states in case of severe shortages, under legislation to be put forward by the European Commission next week.

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.

Member states challenge regional gas ‘solidarity’ plan

A European Commission proposal obliging EU countries to re-route gas supplies to neighbouring member states in case of severe shortages is being challenged for its excessive “rigidity” ahead of ministerial talks Monday (6 June).

Several ministers argued that national risk assessments were better suited to handle disruption of gas supplies.

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