Energy Nord Stream 2 16 June, 2017 9:00 am   

EC mandate for Nord Stream 2 negotiations – a trap or race against time

The ongoing debate on the European Commission negotiation mandate on Nord Stream 2 is no cause for optimism – writes Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Polish Member of the European Parliament.

The Friday vote at the College of Commissioners, where Polish Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska raised a formal objection, suggests that the opponents of this pernicious project are a divided minority. Some states actually share our fears of deeper dependency on Russian gas. Yet they supported the negotiation mandate request, hoping, probably naively, that during the talks a hard stance will be forged and Gazprom will be forced to strictly adapt to the EU law. This is wishful thinking and a trap. A satisfactory result of the negotiations is counted on mostly by Scandinavian and Baltic States, which expect the Commission to uphold the EU laws and treaties.

How can one expect this if the EC is willingly giving up its legal ammunition? Acknowledging at the start, that EU regulations are not binding on EU’s marine territory is absurd. The narrow interpretation of the Third Energy Package, which excludes gas installations which start in third countries is equally irrational. Such an approach cripples the legislation on Europe’s energy security. After all, its basic objective was to provide equal, open and competitive access to transmission infrastructure that supplies gas to Europe. Whereas the EC’s press release on the mandate says only about an “appropriate level of access to infrastructure.” Who would decide about the “appropriateness”? The German regulator, or the Kremlin?

Similarly empty and unenforceable may be the requirements on a transparent tariff system and delivery terms. The expectations of transparency have been already upended by the biggest Member States during the negotiations on the Security of Gas Supplies regulation. This happened in spite of the European Parliament’s objection. It is hard to expect that the EC will now receive a stronger mandate regarding this issue. Especially that Gazprom does not need to be afraid of the biggest EU “stick”, i.e. competition policy, because Commissioner Vestager unexpectedly decided to forego imposing a penalty on Gazprom for its antitrust practices.

The potential blocking minority able to prevent any harmful provisions in the mandate would require absolute solidarity of all new EU Member States, as well as the Nordic group, 13 countries in total. Poland has to seek for solidarity in our region, but the existing distribution of power rewards Russia’s allies.  Still, I would hope, at least to some degree, for a delay in Nord Stream 2 construction caused by the need to determine the negotiation mandate. If the simultaneous work of the Polish, Danish and Norwegian governments and energy companies on the Baltic Pipe will go according to schedule, perhaps Warsaw will be able to limit, although not eliminate, Nord Stream’s negative impact on the energy security in our region. However, this is a race against time and I am afraid that some structures within the European Commission are not on our side.