Russian Ambassador: ‘EU is like a crocodile’

Ambassador Chizhov_4.jpg

The Russian Ambassador to the EU slammed the bloc's inability “to move backwards” on some issues, but also pleaded for reaping the complementarity of European and Russian economies. The remarks were made yesterday (29 May) at a briefing in preparation of the 3-4 June EU-Russia summit.

Vladimir Chizhov made ironic remarks, commenting the Union’s handling of the ‘Third energy package’ (see background) and the bringing of aviation into the EU's Emission Trading System (ETS), to which many countries, including the USA, have objected.

He was briefing the Brussels press ahead of the EU-Russia summit, to be held on 3-4 June in St. Petersburg.

“The third energy package has already had a difficult life,” said Chizhov, well-known by the journalistic community for his dry sense of humour.

He said that the initial project had undergone some changes, allowing alternative options for individual member states. Lithuania, for example, chose its strictest form, amounting to forced nationalization of assets, he said.

The Russian diplomat slammed the EU energy legislation, saying it was harming markets and customers.

“There is a paradox now in the EU energy market. We see that major companies involved in infrastructure projects are prepared to invest only in those projects, which are guaranteed to be exempted from the provisions of the Third energy package,” he said, insisting that these were not only Russia companies.

“This is a clear indication that this particular set of rules runs counter the interests of business and I would add, of the consumers too,” he said.

He gave as an example the case of a pipeline, which has been working normally until the new provisions entered into force. Now, the owner of the pipeline has to reserve half of its capacity to other potential users.

“That means that the volume of oil or gas transported by that pipeline would immediately be cut in half. How would that help the consumer downstream,” he questioned.

Aviation in ETS

On the recent bringing of aviation into ETS, the diplomat said the EU had gone even further. “It has managed to place itself against the rest of the world, basically,” Chizhov said.

The Russian diplomat argued that any moves in finding a solution should not be unilateral, but rather be the result of an international consensus, to be sought in the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

“I understand it might be difficult for the EU to backtrack on its own decisions. Well, some people compare the EU with a crocodile. Not because of its teeth, but because of its inability to move backwards,” he said, smiling wittingly.

Summit in ‘volatile times’

Chizhov said the newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin and his EU guests – Council President Herman Van Rompuy and Commission President José Manuel Barroso – would meet under a “more ore less traditional agenda” in a suburban palace outside St. Petersburg. He said Moscow expected a “lively discussion” on the subject of the eurozone crisis, and that the hosts were aware of the EU interest on the subject of the “rapidly progressing EurAsian integration”.

“I’m sure that my president will be willing to explain the essence, the motives and the vector of development of this integration process,” the diplomat said.

Last October, Putin, in his former capacity of Prime Minister, stated his intention to create a "Eurasian Union", made up of Russia and other post-Soviet states, which triggered a flurry of reactions ranging from enthusiasm to outright rejection in Russia and the countries concerned.

“We are living in volatile times in this multipolar world of ours,” Chizov said, referring to the fact that the EU was losing competitiveness with the emerging economies. To address the problem, he said that the “relative complementarity” of  EU and Russia’s economies would help “not just to survive the current challenges, but to overcome them and prosper in the foreseeable future”.

Putin in Berlin and Paris

Before the EU-Russia summit, Putin will visit on 1 June two EU capitals – Berlin and Paris, Chizov said.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on these two visits held in a single day, Chizhov added that in no way they should be seen as a “substitute” or a “counterweight” for the summit, to be held two days later.

“I should be politically correct. All EU members are equal, but if some are “more equal” than others, then perhaps France and Germany could be listed in that category,” he insisted.

Chizhov refuted critics that his country has been at times suspected of playing EU member states one against the other, or member states against the EU and vice-versa.

“That has never been the case. We believe that both relations with the EU as an institution, and relations with individual member states can and should be mutually reinforcing”.

‘Equal treatment’ for South Stream pipeline

At the EU-Russia summit, the only Commissioner accompanying President Barroso will be Günther Oettinger, responsible for energy. From the Russian side, the new energy Minister Alexander Novak will participate, he said.

“We are looking forward to seeing the South Stream project progressing and we certainly believe that it deserves the same treatment within the EU as Nord Stream and “some other pipelines,” such as the EU-favoured Nabucco gas pipeline, “whose future appears not to be worth much."

Chizhov did not elaborate on Nabucco, but it is well known that this project has suffered attacks by various circles recently, including Victor Orbán the Prime Minister of Hungary, a key transit country, and UK oil major BP.

Asked to provide details, the Russian diplomat said that Russia wanted the South Stream gas pipeline, which according to recent Kremlin orders will be built at maximum capacity of 63 billion cubic metres per year starting from the end of this year, to be included as a TEN-E project, considered as “project of European interest” and eligible for EU assistance.  

The Nord Stream gas pipeline, which supplies Russian gas to Germany directly under the Baltic Sea, benefits from such treatment. The EU Commission has said that South Stream was not eligible for such a status, as long as no blueprints of the project have been made available to the EU executive so far.

Asked if Ukraine would be a topic at the EU-Russia summit, Chizhov said that the issue as such was not a topic of his country’s relations with the Union. But he added that the name of this country is likely to be pronounced over the talks. 

On 19 September 2007, the European Commission presented its 'third package' of proposals to further liberalise the EU's energy market (see LinksDossier).

The proposals sparked much controversy, particularly over the issue of 'ownership unbundling' - meaning the break-up of large vertically-integrated energy firms like EDF and E.ON, which simultaneously control electricity production and distribution assets.

Energy ministers finally clinched a deal in November 2008, agreeing that energy producers from countries which are not fully open to competition would be forbidden to buy up the transmission businesses of energy companies in European countries where full unbundling has been introduced.

The measure was directed at France, which had been opposed to unbundling, while EDF, the state-owned energy firm, went on a shopping spree across Europe.

Russia is at odds with the EU over the Third energy package. The Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom is involved in both transmission of energy and its production.

  • 1 June: Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Berlin and Paris;
  • 3-4 June: EU-Russia summit to be held in St. Petersburg.      

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