Once led by the sole voice of Adris Piebalgs, more and more EU officials are beginning to take the gas opec threat seriously, and are renewing their calls for efforts to form a common energy policy. However, these efforts are being consistently derailed by Russia’s bilateral deals with individual EU states, such as the joint-venture power plants in Germany and the recent cozying up to the Greeks:
Last Wednesday, Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller made a quick trip to Athens, promising the government his company could cover Greece’s natural gas needs until 2040. It was officially announced that Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas requested an increase in the guaranteed natural gas supply from 2.8 billion cubic meters (bcm) until 2016 – as the agreement with state natural gas company DEPA stipulates – to 5 bcm until 2040. DEPA would be guaranteed the 2.8 bcm while Gazprom would trade the remaining amount on the Greek market or through third companies. The aim is to sign a bilateral agreement by the end of the year. Apparently, Gazprom not only wants to become Greece’s long-term monopoly gas supplier but also wants to trade directly and not through DEPA. It has followed a similar policy in Italy and France, putting domestic companies in a difficult position. Gazprom appears to be preparing its entry as a retailer using Prometheus Gas, the company it set up jointly in 1991 with Greece’s Kopelouzos Group, whose owner, Dimitris Kopelouzos, is a former New Democracy MP. This increased natural gas supply to Greece must find an alternative pipeline to the one now supplying Greece via Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. This would mean using the Greek-Turkish pipeline, now under construction and expected to open this summer. Gazprom is mostly interested in the planned extension of this pipeline to Italy, which would allow it to supply Western European markets with 11 bcm of gas.
However, Gazprom hasn’t found the English hospitality to be quite as warm. In response to its efforts to achieve direct access to the UK market and its bids for NHS contracts, the opposition Tories are taking steps to raise their concerns over Gazprom’s reliability as a supplier:
…Campaigners assert that the Kremlin’s track record of witholding gas supplies during political disputes with other countries, such as Ukraine and Georgia, raised serious questions about patient welfare. Health Emergency, an NHS pressure group, said that any such contracts would represent a “horrific gamble with people’s lives”. “The NHS should avoid using Gazprom as a supplier if it is able to do so,” Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk and a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said. “Russia has proved it is not a reliable supplier of gas. When you have sick patients relying on its energy at their bedside, can you really trust Vladimir Putin to be their major supplier?”