Published on Wednesday, the European Commission's attempt to impose internal gas pipelines on the intra-European rules of the game looks reckless. It does not take into account either the structure of gas supplies to the EU, the dubious prospects of the Ukrainian gas transportation system, the specifics of new projects, or the interests of a number of European countries.
The amendments proposed by the European Commission to the EU Gas Directive presuppose the application of the key principles of the pan-European energy legislation to all gas pipelines going through the EU territory. In addition to the EU itself, this has a direct bearing on at least six more states - Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Norway, Tunisia and Russia with its "Nord Stream". In the future - after the expected withdrawal from the EU - the United Kingdom can join this list.
Compilers of the materials of the European Commission have already managed to clarify that the new rules of the game are not intended to prevent the construction of any new gas pipelines, primarily the "Nord Stream-2". On the contrary, the goals are declared exceptionally good: non-discriminatory establishment of tariffs for pumping gas, access to third-party pipelines, separation of gas sales and transportation, and so on. In fact, we are talking about the application of the principles of the famous Third Energy Package of the EU to external gas pipelines. Which assumes that the monopolist of distribution networks (including gas pipelines) should provide 50% of their capacity to competitors.
As a justification for this innovation in the European Commission refer to the September speech of its chairman Jean-Claude Juncker in the European Parliament. The need for the correspondence of external gas pipelines to the principles of the EU was indeed declared by him among the key theses. However, 10 October European Commissioner for Competition Margaret Vestager at a press conference in Vilnius stated that the EU has no legal means to stop or block the project "Nord Stream - 2". But within two weeks it became known that the European Commission was still preparing a proposal to extend the rules of the Third Energy Package to pipelines from third countries.
The logic of such a decision is understandable. Recognizing that it is impossible to prevent the "Nord Stream-2" through legal mechanisms, the EU authorities in fact recognized the argument of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly stated that this gas pipeline is purely a commercial project.
However, in practice, the political context has not disappeared, which, apparently, led European politicians to a "fresh decision" - to apply the same measures to all gas pipelines leading to the EU. Now the countries whose interests can affect the proposed innovations, have a good reason to think: were they not held hostage to the principle of collective responsibility under the pretext of fighting for transparency and competitiveness?
"Tighten the owl on the globe"
As stressed by independent expert-economist Alexander Polygalov, the European Commission was in a paradoxical situation. Intervention of this institute would be completely justified if the opponents of the Nord Stream-2 could prove its harm to the ecosystem of the Baltic Sea. In this case, Brussels, guided by its customary "precautionary principle", could take proactive measures to prevent danger to the environment.
However, the decision of the legal service of the Council of the EU that the issue of a direct gas pipeline from Russia to Germany lies in the competence of these two countries (and not the EU, as the opponents of the Northern Stream-2 insisted), presupposes a completely different behavior of the European Commission. Now, the analyst assumes, the European Commission itself must ensure compliance with the opinion of the Council of the European Union that "Nord Stream-2" is a private matter between a number of commercial companies.
Formally, the European Commission exists to enforce the laws adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, and can not put forward legislative initiatives that directly contradict any normative acts adopted by the Council of the EU. In practice, it turns out that something is exactly the opposite, and here we need to return once again to the speech mentioned by Margaret Westagher, who made a seemingly insignificant reservation: there are no legal possibilities to block the way to the "North Stream-2", but "we have legal grounds for ensuring that the Nord Stream does not fall into a legal vacuum. "
"From the point of view of bureaucratic chicanery, the move has been made right: the agreement on" SP-2 "is allegedly in a" legal vacuum ", and therefore it is necessary to liquidate this vacuum," said Polygalov. - Although in fact it is an obvious attempt to pull an owl on the globe. The assertion that the construction of an additional transport infrastructure for natural gas may somehow prevent free European market agents from transporting gas through the existing alternative transport infrastructure (let alone the subsequent construction of other transport channels, without the participation of Russia), in terms of logic does not have meaning ".
According to the expert, one of the key figures in this "creative" of the European bureaucracy is the vice-president of the European Commission Maros Shefrovich, responsible for energy, who represents Slovakia "exclusively by chance", because this is the country through which the route for transporting Russian gas to Europe passes, the bottom of the Baltic Sea. In addition, it was Slovakia that became one of the main beneficiaries after Ukraine refused to buy gas directly from Gazprom. As a result, Ukrainian consumers get all the same Russian gas, but passed through the reverse through the European Union, primarily through Slovakia.
"There is no sense for Germany in the initiative of the European Commission. Sense for Europe as a whole - too. But for whom such a proposal makes sense, it is for bureaucrats from the European Commission who will have the opportunity to regulate the transportation of gas from Russia. And also for quite formal lobbyists, including those who are part of certain committees of the European Commission and (hypothetically speaking) may represent the interests of certain business structures having a specific commercial interest, for example, in the transportation of Russian gas through the territory, Slovakia or Poland, "says Polygalov.
According to the expert, today the interests of the lobbyists of the gas transport companies of the countries of Central Europe are most likely to be part of the European Commission. While in the Council of Europe, judging by the recognition of the "Nord Stream-2" as a "purely private project", the advantage is still for lobbyists close to those commercial structures from Germany, Italy and other countries that started this project in conjunction with Gazprom.
"It matters who wins in this fuss of lobbyists under the carpet. Therefore, the answer to the question of whether all these innovations are realizable or simply empty air shaking sounds like this: surely they are realizable, it all depends on where and how much the profit will be, "the expert summarizes.
Even if the European Commission can carry out its ambiguous initiatives, this does not mean that the opponents of the "Nord Stream-2" will be able to obstruct the project. The key point here, again, is the Ukrainian transit.
"Probably up to 2019, all the proposals of the European Commission will not have a direct impact on Russian exports, since until this moment supplies will continue through Ukraine," Vasily Tanurkov, deputy director of the corporate ratings group of the Analytical Credit Rating Agency (ACRA), told VZGLYAD. "At the same time it is obvious that in the next few years there will be no investments in the gas transportation system of Ukraine, so the possibility of gas supplies through Ukraine already in the 2020-ies is technologically a big question. "Gazprom, by all accounts, is better than Europeans understands that deliveries through Ukraine can be technically unrealizable if not in five, then in ten years. How to solve this problem in a different way, besides building a new pipeline, is not entirely clear. Therefore, Europeans, despite possible initial contractual problems, will have to find a common language with Russia. "
Russian gas, Tanurkov recalls, traditionally occupies a decent and growing share in European imports. Accordingly, either the Europeans will create problems for themselves by extending the domestic legislation to the incoming gas pipelines, or this legislation will then have to be retrofitted for some specific pipelines, taking into account the already technical inability to support supplies through Ukraine. Moreover, there are already significant examples of such exceptions - it is enough to recall how last year the same European Commission withdrew the OPAL gas pipeline located between the sea part of the North Stream-1 and the European gas transmission system, from the norms of the Third Energy Package, acting on in the interests of Gazprom.
In addition, Tanukrov underscores, there are other options for circumventing the regulation proposed by the European Commission. For example, when the TAP gas pipeline will be built and supplies from Azerbaijan will flow through it, this country will not be able to comply with the new rules. Therefore, it is necessary to do the swap operation: purely formally, accounting will be that half of the gas supplied by the TAP is Russian gas, and the corresponding share supplied by the Turkish flow is Azeri. Similarly, it is possible to act in the case of Norway, since it is impossible to supply third-party gas in the same pipelines for which Norwegian gas is supplied, just as in the case of Nord Stream.
"It is not clear yet, whether the European Commission will manage to hold its initiative, and even more so, in what terms," sums up Tanurkov. "I'm not at all sure that these initiatives will be supported by all EU members and that all this discussion will affect the construction of the second route of the Nord Stream."