European parliament approves rules for EU involvement in energy deals

By bne IntelliNews March 2, 2017

MEPs approved rules on March 2 that would oblige member states to inform the European Commission of plans to negotiate energy supply deals with third countries before opening negotiations.

The rules are a response to efforts to improve energy security, especially at the eastern end of the bloc. Brussels believes the move will raise leverage when dealing with suppliers. Russia, the largest supplier of gas to the EU, is a clear target. Moscow has made an art of driving splits between member states.

Russia’s plan to build a second line of the Nord Stream route, which runs beneath the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, is a case in point. States in Central & Eastern Europe complain that the project would weaken their role as transporters of gas imports, and raise their dependence on Gazprom. However, the project is supported by Germany, which hopes to see prices drop and to raise its role in European gas flows.

Nord Stream 2 is also creating divisions within the Visegrad Four – the Central European club that groups the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. While the Czechs stand to benefit in similar fashion to Germany, Poland is leading objections, and has been infuriated by recent moves by Brussels to open the way for Gazprom to raise shipments from Nord Stream 1 via Opal – the overland pipeline which meets the route to carry gas to German hubs.

“This legislation will ensure the energy security of the member states, creating effective ex-ante mechanisms for the European Commission to check draft agreements on gas and oil supplies, and to verify their compliance both with the EU law and with energy security needs”, said Poland’s Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, according to a European Parliament press release. The Pole’s draft text was approved by 542 votes to 87, with 19 abstentions.

Krasnodebski asked the European Commission “to be consistent and act with determination as regards its decisions on the Opal gas pipeline and the controversial Nord Stream 2 project”.

An informal deal struck by parliament and the EU Council in December stipulates that member states entering into negotiations with a third country in order to amend or to conclude an intergovernmental agreement on energy must inform the EU Commission in writing before the start of the negotiations. At present, member states are required to submit such agreements only after signature.

The commission may also participate in negotiations as an observer, subject to the written approval of the member state concerned.

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