Russian Gas Meets EU Obstacles

Today, Vladimir Putin might feel entitled to relax in terms of Russia’s energy exports.  In a case of neat timing, just as Ukraine’s frustration with the alleged iniquities of its gas deal with Russia reaches its highest possible pitch, the Prime Minister pressed a button jerking the Nord Stream pipeline into test launch action.  As the pipeline entirely bypasses traditional transit nation Ukraine, Gazprom’s customers in Germany and France will be assured that no matter what diplomatic skirmishes cloud Moscow’s relationships with its near neighbors, Russia will be a reliable exporter of gas.   The following news, however, from the New York Times, might dampen the Kremlin’s spirits somewhat:

The European Union executive Wednesday announced plans aimed at stopping countries in the bloc from striking bilateral deals that cede too much power to oil and gas exporters such as Russia. Europe needs to look “beyond its borders to ensure the security of energy supplies” and “act together and speak with one voice,” the E.U. energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger said at a news conference.

The proposal represents a bid by authorities in Brussels to take more control over a sector where nations zealously guard their sovereignty, and where powerful utilities still dominate a number of key energy markets.

Mr. Oettinger said he wanted the right to demand information on energy deals involving member states and third countries before such deals are signed. Under the plan, the commission would publicize any concerns. If those concerns were ignored, the commission could sue member states to change the terms of any agreements that threatened to jeopardize the Union’s overall energy security.

The proposal would require approval by member states and the European Parliament, and governments could balk if major oil and gas companies vying for new contracts in places like Libya insist that sharing such information would jeopardize their negotiations.

But Mr. Oettinger said he was “optimistic” of passage after national leaders backed the idea for more centralized management of international energy deals in February. He also said the commission could be trusted to preserve confidentiality in commercially sensitive cases.


Europe’s relations with Russia in the energy sphere have long been tricky. Russia supplies nearly a quarter of Europe’s natural gas. But those supplies have been interrupted in recent years because of disputes between Russia and its neighbors like Ukraine, leading to severe shortages in parts of Europe during the depths of winter.

Mr. Oettinger said there were not “any immediate concerns” about cut-offs this coming winter as a result of ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

But E.U. authorities are continuing to push plans to build a pipeline called Nabucco to deliver natural gas to Europe from the Caspian region, bypassing Russia.