EU: opposition grows towards Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

EU: opposition grows towards Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

Sebastiano Fusco
Many believe that, following the migration crisis and the euro crisis, the new gas pipeline could be the third and final cause of the political collapse of the European Union

The political headwind blows increasingly stronger against the construction of a second gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, the so-called "Nord Stream 2", which is expected to transport gas from Russia to Germany, passing under the Baltic Sea, alongside the already existing infrastructure. The project, strongly backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "is inconsistent with the EU’s foreign policy and energy objectives", wrote the Chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, in a letter sent in May to the EU Climate and Energy Commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete. "As Chairman of the EPP," wrote Weber, "I would like to emphasize the need to acknowledge the inconsistency of the project with the diversification goals of the transit route for importing energy and for energy supply sources". According to Weber, "the doubling of the Nord Stream is expected to lead to a significant increase in dependence on Russia for gas supplies. The EU," adds Weber, "risks creating negative consequences for gas supplies in Central and Eastern Europe, including the Ukraine." For these reasons "we believe that the project should not only be excluded from the financial support of the European Union, but, at the same time, the full, integral and unconditional respect for the Union’s energy goals and EC legislation should be applied." The letter also says that "it is not clear to what extent the EU Commission is working together with European energy companies towards constructing the Southern Gas Corridor, a project of mutual interest, which has significant potential to import gas from alternative suppliers." Weber’s speech is significant as it comes from a high-profile German politician whose party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is the Bavarian sister party of the Democratic Christian Union, Merkel’s party.

A controversial infrastructure project

Nord Stream 2, as written by the German newspaper "Die Welt" in April, is one of the "most controversial [infrastructure projects] of our time, and risks dividing Europe even further". Many believe that, following the migration crisis and the euro crisis, the new gas pipeline could be the third and final straw tothe European Union’s political collapse. In addition to the underwater pipelines inaugurated in November 2011, the Nord Stream consortium plans the future installation of 2 other pipelines from Russia to Germany, therefore bypassing Ukraine and the whole of Eastern Europe. In light of the tensions with Moscow, however, Kiev, Warsaw, Prague and other Eastern European countries do not agree that Germany should independently launch a similar venture agreement with Russia. In this regard, the European Commissioner for the Energy Union, Slovak Maros Sefociv has been more than clear: "With regard to Nord Stream 2," he said on April 16, during the GLOBSEC 2016 security forum, held in Bratislava "there is an intense ongoing debate on several levels. We are seeking a solution; this project should not divide the EU between winners and losers." Sefcovic recalled that 9 countries in Central and Eastern Europe have emphasized that the Nord Stream 2 has potentially destabilizing geopolitical implications for the region and for the EU’s immediate neighbors, and that this increases energy dependence on Russia, a fact that is not in line with the EU legislation goals in the energy industry. "Negotiations on a new agreement between the consortium of countries promoting the project and the Russian and Ukrainian governments must start as soon as possible. The EU Commission is ready to pay the role of mediator", said Sefcovic. The doubling of the Nord Stream cannot happen in a "legal void," stressed the spokesman of the EU Commission, Jakub Adamowicz, on May 2, recalling that both Sefcovi and Cañete have expressed "the concerns of the Commission with regard to the impact of the project with respect to the EU strategy for the diversification of sources and on the future of Ukrainian transit." If constructed, the gas pipeline "must be fully in line, as with all other infrastructure projects, with EC rules, including rules on energy and the environment". The construction of the Nord Stream 2 cannot therefore happen in the "legal void". This also means that "it cannot operate only in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation."

Russia's point of view

Of course, Moscow’s point of view is very different, as expressed on April 27 by the Chairman of the Gazprom Board of Director, Viktor Zubkov, during the economic forum in Bratislava. "The European Union, in the long term," he said "will not be able to do without Russian gas, and Moscow is ready to deliver it to its European partners, protecting the transit routes as best it can. Zubkov emphasized that the transit of hydrocarbons through Ukraine is subject to significant risks. According to the chairman of Russian company Gazprom, it is responsible for the security of gas supplies to Europe, and Russia seeks to ensure its customers the highest reliability. The current situation in Ukraine, due to the growing crisis in the country, no longer meets the high international safety criteria. "Russia is ready to ensure a reliable supply to its European partners," said Zubkov, backing the doubling of the Southern Gas Corridor: "the Nord Stream is able to ensure a constant supply of the volumes of gas needed to the European Union market," while those who oppose it are prey to "excessive politicization." The Nord Stream 2 project involves the construction of 2 branches of a network of gas pipelines with a total capacity of 55 billion cubic meters per year, which, from 2019, will connect the Russian coasts with Germany via the Baltic Sea. Gazprom will hold 50% of the infrastructure, while Austria’s OMV will hold 10%, as will the other European companies BASF, Engie, Shell and Uniper. The construction works require a total investment of around €10 billion. The sole contract for the laying of the offshore section could be worth €1.5 billion.