Grigory Pasko: Déja-vu in Brussels, Part 1

Déja-vu in Brussels, Part 1 By Grigory Pasko, journalist In Moscow Recently, Polish prime-minister Donald Tusk visited Moscow and offered Russia a new variant for the construction of a new «Yamal-Europe» gas pipeline as an alternative to the «Nord Stream» gas pipeline. In the opinion of the Polish government, this will allow unsanctioned siphoning-off of gas and unpredictable increases by transit countries of the fee for the transit of the gas to be avoided. The Polish government has already attained approval of the project from the governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. However, before Tusk even left for Moscow, it was clear that Russia would not accept the alternative variant. Russian president Vladimir Putin uttered the standard stock phrase about being interested in developing relations with Poland. The position of Gazprom with respect to the Polish variant was voiced by one of the clerks of the gas monopolist: this variant is unacceptable for us. That’s it. End discussion. End discussion?

In BrusselsNot long after Tusk’s appearance in Russia, hearings were held in Brussels in the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament. The topic of discussion – the environmental aspects of the construction of the «Nord Stream» gas pipeline. The event was interesting in part because executive director of the «Nord Stream» company Matthias Warnig and technical director Dirk von Ameln spoke at it.On top of that, many interesting, in my opinion, petitions by representatives of different countries were voiced.carnivalposters081208Come one, come all! Gaily colored posters announcing the hearings resembled advertisements for a carnival (Photo by Grigory Pasko)Running the bureaucratic gauntletYou could write a whole play about the procedure for getting through all the cordons on the way to any meeting room in the building of the European Parliament in Brussels – a play about the eternal reign of bureaucratism. I don’t think I’ve ever gone through such encumbrances and minutiae in the procedure for getting a pass, the inspection of things and verification of identity – not even in airports, let alone Russian prisons.No, no, don’t get me wrong – I’m not at all against my own safety and security. But believe me, I could easily have gotten by with only one visitor’s pass, and not the three I was issued: the first to enter the building of the European Parliament, the second as an accredited journalist (to the very same place), and the third as a journalist having permission to shoot photos and video.Having gone through all the circles of this bureaucratic-control hell, I thought to myself: so how is it that terrorists nevertheless somehow manage to commit their abhorrent deeds?In the hall named after PetraGathered in the Petra Kelly conference hall – named after the famous German ecologist and founder of the party of the “greens” – was everybody and anybody who had even the slightest thing to do with the Nord Stream gas pipeline project. The hearings were presided over by committee chairman Marcin Libicki, then European Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs took the podium, then former Lithuanian president Vitautas Landsbergis spoke…petrahall081208In the hall named after Petra (Photo by Grigory Pasko)Technical director of Nord Stream Dirk von Ameln, whom I had arranged to interview, sat surrounded by Matthias Warnig, his assistant Jens Müller, and about twenty employees of the company Nord Stream. They were calm and impassive. (By the way, their baby – the future gas pipeline – doesn’t really belong to the Warnigs and the von Amels: the true owners of the gas pipeline don’t show their faces in public).Déja-vuRight from the start of the discussions, the motions, and the petitions, it became clear that this was not the first time this sort of thing was taking place in such a hall at the European Parliament.The heads of the joint Russian-German project «Nord Stream» had already been here back in the beginning of last year. Back then, they had conducted a series of “high-level” meetings at the European Commission and the European Parliament. They discussed problems associated with the laying of a gas pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, support for the project on the part of the institutions of the European Union, the governments and public of the countries of the EU.As was underscored at a press conference by the chairman of the company’s shareholders’ committee, former FRG chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, all Europe should be interested in the realization of this project: “We are committed to providing reliable supplies of energy to Europe for many decades. Our key concern is that the realization of the project meet the highest international and national nature-protection standards”.Warnig, who was accompanying Schroeder at the time, noted: “The company is conducting an active dialogue with all countries adjoining the Baltic Sea, in order to find the optimal ways for carrying out the project. By autumn, «Nordstream» will present comprehensive research on the ecological aspects of the construction”.Let us note right from the start that Nord Stream did not present “comprehensive researches about ecological aspects”. I’m getting the impression right now that it had never intended to do so. Running ahead of myself, I will say: they weren’t presented this time around, either. Furthermore, both von Ameln in my interview with him and Warnig in his presentation to the subcommittee said one and the same thing in exactly the same words. No doubt they said the exact same thing with Schroeder last year.The world petitionsMeanwhile, the public gathered in the Petra Kelly conference hall was in a highly critical frame of mind in relation to the ecological aspect of the Nord Stream project. Summing up all the comments of the various parties, I will note the main questions that were touched upon in these petitions.nordstreamhearing021208It was standing room only during the Nord Stream hearing (Photo by Grigory Pasko)It was noted, in particular, that the Baltic Sea is a shallow body of water and that it is already suffering from industrial activity. The ecosystem is vulnerable. The chemical weapons lying around on the seabed have not been researched. The pipeline will cross the territories of nature parks. If an accident happens on the operating pipeline, who will be responsible? The European Commission is not very actively taking part in the discussion of the materials of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. How will monitoring of the environment be conducted after the completion of construction? Why is the headquarters of the Nord Stream company located in Switzerland? (Not an idle question, by the way: in the event of the bankruptcy of the company, it is either the countries near the territories of which an accident takes place, or all Europe together, that will be responsible for the consequences of an accident). There’s no need to keep repeating all the time that the project is for the integration of Europe: of the eight countries directly affected by the project, five are against it. And this has already become a factor of reintegration.Dirk von Ameln made a presentation. He said that Nord Stream simply yearns to build the pipeline in full compliance with international norms and to protect the ecosystem; that it is conducting a dialogue with authorities, citizens, and organizations; that it has received 129 comments and has conducted 10 meetings with representatives of the countries that have signed the Espoo Convention.The “Trojan horse” brought to Brussels by Nord Stream – a firm from Denmark that has conducted an EIA of the project – also voiced its opinion. It consisted of the following: the firm examined three variants of the pipeline, and the best one of the three (surprise, surprise…) turned out to be the very one Nord Stream is proposing to build. There was a lot of talk about nature, about relations with ecologists, and about love for birds. And almost as an afterthought, it just happened to be mentioned in passing that the actual materials of the EIA aren’t quite ready yet. Although it was then declared at once that “our EIA will satisfy everybody”.[Read Part 2 here]