EU Countries to Deal with the South Stream ‘Mess’

Written by | Monday, December 9th, 2013
DR. Pavel Hnat

Six EU countries are faced with serious difficulties over the bilateral deals they signed with Russia on the South Stream gas pipeline, with Bulgaria the most anxious to get EU help, according to well-informed European Commission sources. Speaking in Brussels earlier this week, a Bulgarian minister said Sofia would seek to bring its bilateral agreement with Russia on the South Stream project in line with EU legislative. This announcement came amid heightened tensions between the Commission and the Russian company Gazprom over gas pipeline contracts.
Six EU countries – namely Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary and Slovenia – have signed inter-governmental agreements with Russia over South Stream. Earlier this week, a Commission official announced that these bilateral agreements for the construction of the Gazprom-favored South Stream pipeline – concluded between Russia and other European countries – were actually breaching EU law and needed to be completely renegotiated. While Moscow reportedly had no intention of halting the construction of the pipeline, it views the inter-governmental agreements with EU member states valid under international law, which in its view has supremacy over EU law. Moreover, Gazprom further added fuel to the fire over the dispute when it accused the Commission of reacting too late, after the construction of South Stream had begun.
However, the Russian gas monopoly was careful to leave a door open to solve the dispute – it is likely to reach a compromise with the EU based on the experience of the OPAL pipeline, an offshore leg of Nord Stream. Meanwhile, the countries that signed the deals with Russia now appear entangled in a legal jumble. South Stream is a Russian sponsored natural gas pipeline. The pipeline is designed to run under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and continue through Serbia with two branches to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Croatia. From Serbia the pipelines crosses Hungary and Slovenia before reaching Italy.

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