Gazprom chief questions EU pipeline rules

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EU rules designed to boost third-party participation in Russian pipelines shipping gas to Europe could trigger legal steps by Russia, the head of Gazprom said in an interview with a German newspaper published today (26 January).

"The Commission seems to consider these rules as a means to put pressure on export countries such as Russia. But every action triggers a counter-action," Chief Executive Alexei Miller told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

He said EU rules which state that gas production, transport and sales must be separate and open to third parties within single market directives were blocking the market to suppliers rather than opening it.

Miller said there were considerations in Russia to launch legal steps against Brussels if Russia viewed as too rigid stipulations giving competitors access to Gazprom pipelines and for separating pipes from exploration.

"At least this would need examining," he said.

Gazprom is Europe's biggest gas supplier from gas field via transit links into individual national markets. Miller said gas fields without pipelines were "worthless" and enforced separation interfered with ownership rights.

Europe might risk finding itself without infrastructure and without gas, if it went too far, he said.

Commenting on Gazprom's forays into lucrative energy retail markets in Germany, he said Gazprom wanted to "strengthen its commitment."

"Not only do we want to deliver gas, but also enter power production. At Gazprom, there is still great willingness to invest in power plants."

He said his company was still interested in entering the German gas-to-power generation sector after talks with RWE failed to produce results.

Talks begun with RWE in mid-July to explore joint power cooperation were terminated in December.

Gazprom continues to explore cooperation with the state of Bavaria.

Gazprom recently acquired Envacom, a small German energy and telecommunications firm, in its quest to gain a further foothold in and around its biggest single European customer.

The liberalisation of European gas and electricity markets aims to give consumers the chance to freely choose their supplier and shop around for the best deals (see EURACTIV LinksDossier). However, there have been few new entrants to the market and most households and businesses still lack a real choice of supplier.

In May 2006, the European Commission conducted a series of surprise inspections of the offices of large European companies - including E.ON, RWE, Gaz de France, Distrigas and OMV - on the suspicion that they were restricting competitors' access to pipelines and gas storage facilities and engaged in 'market-sharing' practices.

The findings persuaded the EU executive to propose a third energy liberalisation package, tabled in September 2007. A compromise deal on the legislative package was struck on 23 March 2009. But some voices are warning that the gas sector must be treated with extra caution as the current proposals are causing tensions with Europe's largest supplier, Russia.

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