Commission opens door to further Gazprom blackmail

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski [Website of Jacek Saryusz-Wolski]

A recent decision of the European Commission puts the whole European diversification and energy security strategy in jeopardy, prompting Poland and Ukraine to take legal action against the EU executive, writes Jacek Saryusz-Wolski.

MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (Poland) is Vice Chair of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats).

The recent European Commission’s decision granting the OPAL pipeline further exemption from the Third Energy Package rules is deeply worrying. In theory, all that the Commission did was to accept, with additional restrictions, the decision of the German network regulator granting Gazprom access to nearly full capacity of the pipeline.

Yet, in reality, this move puts the whole European diversification and energy security strategy in jeopardy.

A couple of straight facts: unbundling, the separation of ownership of transit infrastructure and gas supplies is one of the pillars of a functioning energy market. The goal is to secure equal access to pipeline infrastructure and ensure that the industry and the consumers can freely choose their gas provider. This is the gist of the Third Energy Package and a crucial element of the energy security strategy. The European Commission is bound by treaties to act as the custodian of European law, ensuring its application regardless of national or commercial pressures.

Third Energy Package exemptions should be granted on an exceptional basis and justified by strategic necessity. They may be granted for infrastructural projects ensuring supplies for energy islands or for those enhancing the security of supplies for all EU member states.

Nord Stream clearly does not fulfil any of these criteria. By granting Russia (since Gazprom is but an energy agent of Kremlin’s grand strategy) additional transit capacity in the OPAL pipeline, the Commission jeopardised the position of such transit countries as Poland and Ukraine.

Should this decision enhance Russian dominance on the German energy market, we can forget about ensuring security of gas supplies for the EU. Current security strategy is based on the development of a liberalised energy market, strengthened by the bidirectional transit infrastructure (interconnectors), enabling emergency supplies in times of crisis causes by a Russian gas cut-off.

This is not a hypothetical scenario – in the past Gazprom had resorted to an energy blackmail strategy on three occasions, both related to Russia’s decision to punish Ukraine, as in 2006, 2009 and, to a lesser degree, 2014.

Should German supplies and infrastructure become even more Russia-dependent, the whole premise of this strategy, based on the solidarity principle, will fail. After all, one could reasonably expect an outburst of “urgent and necessary” repairs and supply disruptions, preventing Germany from utilising the existing interconnector facilities and putting at risk energy security in the EU.

The flow of speculations surrounding the Commission’s decision, and attributing it to be part of a greater bargain between the EU and Gazprom (granting OPAL exemption in return for ensuring gas transit through Ukraine and forfeiting the Nord Stream expansion) is not reassuring and makes little sense.

What this presupposes, essentially, is that the EU would grant Russia similar benefits of increased gas flows in order to avoid the construction of Nord Stream II, a project that is highly controversial and strongly contested across Europe, regardless of the political spectrum.

That would be extremely unwise and short-sighted. Gazprom would, at the very first opportunity, make use of its newly strengthened position to exert its dominance and bow out of any previously made deal.

The energy companies from Poland and Ukraine are in the right to pursue a court case against the Commission. And should they win, it would be of benefit for the whole of the European Union.

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