After the failure of Bulgaria, the Austrian presidency delays work on the law that could ensnare Nord Stream 2. This is a threat to the credibility of the European institutions which anti-European forces will benefit from, and thus also Russia. Will the disputed project support the construction of Putintern? – wonders Wojciech Jakóbik, editor-in-chief of BiznesAlert.pl.
Nord Stream 2 construction
The debate on the revision of the gas directive has become bogged down in technical disputes, according to the Platts agency. In June I reported that the work on amending the directive was slowed down by Bulgaria, which could have had an interest in it. Despite the growing number of opponents of Nord Stream 2 and supporters of subordinating it to European law, a small group of strong European states is effectively obstructing the work of the European institutions. This is what I meant by putting forward a thesis that the dispute over Nord Stream works for Europe like Brexit – disintegrating.
The change of the gas directive, which was supposed to subordinate the projects like the contested Nord Stream 2 to European law, stopped at the stage of technical disputes – the Platts agency in Brussels learned. In line with the concerns of the supporters of the revision, the Austrian Presidency did not recognize these works as a priority. The Austrian OMV is the financial partner of the contested Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline project which, if necessary to adapt it to European law, could at least delay it.
EU diplomats who talked to the Platts agency say that the proposal to revise the gas directive forwarded by the European Commission and the European Parliament to the European Union Council arena is unlikely to go through the consultation stage before the end of this year. Meanwhile, the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is due to start in the summer and it is unclear whether the new regulation can cover it if it is adopted later. There is also the possibility that the regulation will cover Nord Stream 2, but if it is adopted after its completion scheduled for the end of 2019, the project will be exempted from regulation. It remains to be decided whether projects like Nord Stream 2 should be regulated by intergovernmental agreements that have not yet been made. The same applies to Nord Stream 1, which is already in operation.
Austria decided that the priority of the work should be the reform of the energy market using the so-called winter package: transfer of part of the energy market regulation to the pan-European level, reform of the ACER operator association, new rules for responding to the threat of energy supply. After Austria, the Council will be chaired by Romania, Finland, Croatia and Germany. Perhaps some of them will be interested in speeding up the work on the directive.
The fact that stronger EU countries are able to obstruct the European institutions testifies to the weakness of the institutional system of the European Union. The answer could be further federalisation, but it will be difficult to convince skeptics who, as an argument against it, will just point to abuse on the part of stronger players, led by Germany, without whom the umbrella project Nord Stream 2 would be much harder to defend.
Putintern and permanent constipation on the horizon
This means that disputes like Nord Stream can act as a fuse in the discussion about the future of European integration. Obstruction of Nord Stream 2 defenders can get revenge on them in the discussion about the winter package, in which there may be less constructive voices delaying work on change. In this case, however, the supporters of the changes are stronger EU countries, which may perhaps break the resistance of the weaker. If, however, European law is created in this way, the sense of injustice on which the anti-European radicals, who can be called a populist international group, will grow up. The credibility of the European institutions will depend on how many political factions join them and whether the strongest conservative parties, for example in Poland and Hungary, will refrain from such a maneuver.
One can imagine a scenario in which even moderate conservative parties will enter the new political bloc outside the largest parties of the European Parliament: socialists and Christian Democrats, creating a strong third force. Its operation will consist mainly of obstructing initiatives aimed at strengthening cooperation within the Community, and hence both the revision of the Gas Directive and acts from the winter package. The creation of a sufficiently strong third, anti-European force in the EP may mean permanent obstructing the work of the European institutions, which could lead to a crisis of integration in the long term.
It seems that such a scenario could be supported by Steve Bannon, a former advisor to the US President who created the Movement in the hope of creating a right-wing international in the European Parliament. If the obstruction in the Nord Stream 2 case and other cases of “injustice” in the European Union incline moderate rightists to cooperate with radicals, such an international may arise. Then it will disintegrate Europe and, consequently, support Russian interests on the continent. In this way, Nord Stream 2 can help build Putintern in Europe.