Grigory Pasko: Finland’s Perspective on Nord Stream

Nord Stream – from a Finnish perspective: interviews with Heidi Hautala and Erkki Hollo By Grigory Pasko, journalist In one of the magazine articles, the author, clearly sympathetic towards «Gazprom» and its latest spawn – Nord Stream – wrote: “No, no, no!!! – the editorial in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladed exclaimed hysterically with respect to the gas pipeline project, frightening readers with a drawing of a Russian octopus”. “Hysterically” – this is in the sick imagination of the author of the article. In actuality, I would say that the Scandinavian press (like, by the way, the Russian as well) is devoting remarkably little attention to coverage of the details of the advancement of the project. And as is known, the devil is in the details. Perhaps this is precisely the reason why so little is known about the actual details of the project? It is known that Finland in the year 2004 began construction of a new reactor for a nuclear power station. In such a manner, dependence on Russian gas, the proportion of which in Finland’s energy supply comprises 11%, will be reduced. That is, Finland has no reasons to be declaring anything at all about Nord Stream “hysterically”, to use the words of the previously mentioned journalist.

It is known that in May of the year 2007, president of Finland Tarja Halonen defined the position of her country in relation to the pipeline thus: “This is an ecological question, not a political one. We say ‘yes’ to the pipeline and no to ecological threats. If the latter can be avoided, we will support the pipeline”.One of the principal documents – a sort of negotiation platform for discussion of questions associated with the environmental risks of the project, is the Espoo Convention. (It is called this, by the way, in honor of a small town next door to Helsinki). It is precisely because of the demands of this convention that the Swedish ecological ministry has returned the application of the company Nord Stream for further work, proposing that an alternative variant of laying the pipeline be worked through as well.In this part of the demands, Finland supported Sweden. In addition to this, earlier, the Finns, having received technical documentation from Nord Stream, brought attention to the complexities of the relief of the seabed in the Gulf of Finland. In the opinion of specialists, in this sector, either a gravel bed will have to be built up underneath the pipeline, or excess craggy rock structures will have to be removed, either of which, naturally, will not exactly have a positive impact on the ecology of the sea. The Finns proposed moving the pipe closer to the shores of Estonia.That turned out to be impossible: the Estonians didn’t even bother looking at Nord Stream’s application, and the Estonian premier didn’t even bother to meet with the head representative of the company Nord Stream former Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder.With the question of how the politicians of Finland are discussing the pipeline now, I turned to a member of the Finnish parliament, Heidi Hautala.Here is what she said.“Finland has always taken an active position on Nord Stream. Therefore it did not close its eyes to all the shortcomings of the project. The shortcomings are as follows: The underwater topography in the Gulf is not simple. But in addition to this, Russia needs to ratify the Espoo Convention. Without such ratification there is no reliable framework within which environmental questions can be discussed. I asked our environment minister about this. He replied that in Finland it is not customary to link together two unrelated questions. In my view, this is an unacceptable answer.“The Swedes have taken a tougher stance and have shown that you can fight the shortcomings of the project. As a result of Sweden’s position, Nord Stream has abandoned the [idea of] building a service platform next to Gotland. The participant countries of the Baltic Sea region must study a land-based alternative. The Sea is vulnerable, the pipe will harm it, a land routing needs to be studied, at a minimum.hautala042908Prominent Finnish politician Heidi Hautala thinks her government lacks the courage to insist that Russia adhere to international frameworks for dialogue (photo by Grigory Pasko)“Finland has long ago learned that the only way to deal with other countries is to conduct a dialogue within the framework of common rules to which both sides have agreed. We have had the experience of when Russia started to build port facilities in the Gulf without taking our country’s opinions into account. And the Finns realized then that there is no framework for talks – the Espoo Convention has been signed but not ratified by Russia.“It seems to me that the Finnish government lacks the courage to insist that Russia must ratify the Convention.”Are there other legal norms as well that would play against the project? About this I asked professor of international law Erkki Hollo.You were recently invited to testify about Nord Stream before the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions in Brussels. What about?

It was the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, based on a Polish petition which was… analyzed during a one-day meeting. I was invited as an expert to this meeting. … I had to testify about the legal conditions of creating a pipeline in international waters.

Does this project comply with all international conventions?

In my view, yes.

What can you say about the concerns raised by Finnish environmentalists about this project?

We have an information system, the Environmental Impact Assessment, which is required. And it’s up to the content of this Assessment to define and to find out what the risks and damages may be. And I think this procedure should give satisfactory information about the ecological and also other impacts.

hollo042908Professor Erkki Hollo of the University of Helsinki is widely regarded as one of Europe’s leading specialists in environmental law (photo by Grigory Pasko)The company Nord Stream has unilaterally chosen a Danish company to conduct the Environmental Impact Assessment. Do you know why Nord Stream chose this company in particular?

First I have to say I have no idea what happened in Nord Stream; I’m not familiar with the context. But I don’t see that there’s a requirement to have a tender in these cases. …The system has been internationally created in a way that the operator, or the company in this case, is the sponsor for initiating the procedure. The main idea is that the operator should perform the Impact Assessment independently, by himself. But of course it’s not possible to have all the information, so it’s open for any possibility of a choice of consulting firm. There are no limitations on that. But this does not mean that that’s the final decision. …It’s controlled by state authorities, the results of that Impact Assessment.

If you separate yourself from the circumstance that you are a specialist in the area of law, are you – personally – for the project or against it?

I’m not sure I should answer that question, because the result depends on my own analysis! …But I feel that I am also a European, and I think that for Europe, …this is a good basis for cooperation between Europe, which has too little energy, and Russia, which has a large source of energy. I think it’s a good, useful, and necessary way for cooperation in the field of energy policy. Also for climate change.

The opinion of the Finnish branch of the World Wildlife Fund was expressed by Anita Mäkinen. She enumerated all the environmental risks of the pipeline (the uneven seabed, harm to flora and fauna, chemical weaponry, sunken objects and others) and at the same time expressed such a fear: if the pipeline is not built, then the Russians will start to sell their gas, transporting it in liquefied form on tankers. Then the intensity of maritime traffic in the region will increase. And the risks associated with this will also increase. In Russian, her fears could sound like this: horseradish is no sweeter than ordinary radish.wwf042908Dr. Anita Mäkinen, Head of the Marine Program at WWF Finland, worries that the alternative to the pipeline may be even worse for the environment (photo by Grigory Pasko)Insamuch as it won’t only be «Gazprom» -Russia and Germany that will be drinking the concoction brewed up in the Baltic, all of the potential imbibers have the right to know the truth about the culinary recipes of the given dish, that is about all the details of its preparation.We will continue in our search for these details…