Energy Nord Stream 2 15 May, 2017 10:00 am   

Can one trust EC in Nord Stream 2 case?

A representative of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a decisive signal on Nord Stream 2 from Denmark. Poland does not want the EC to negotiate with Russia about the pipeline.

„I am not sure I understand the motive behind this. The EC has full authority to implement EU laws”, commented Konrad Szymański, the Secretary of State for European Affairs in an interview with Politiken, a Danish daily. The Commission stated that it didn’t have any legal basis to stop Nord Stream 2. However, according to secretary Szymański this was not the case and the real issue was that the Commission didn’t want to deal with this problem because it is politically charged.

Why doesn’t Poland want to trust the EC? The necessity to negotiate a special legal regime for Nord Stream 2 came about because of an unresolved dispute within the EC on whether the controversial pipeline can be subject to EU law. I discussed this conflict, which paralyzed the EC, elsewhere.

Since no decision has been made, Brussels decided to enter the negotiation process with Russia to postpone the politically difficult decision on the future of the pipeline. If the EC decided to make EU law applicable to Nord Stream 2, it would please Poland, but not Germany. Because of that the EC is stalling, which has been confirmed by the Centre for Eastern Studies, a Polish think tank.

On the one hand, if member states gave the EC a mandate, the negotiations with Russia could lead to shutting the project down. Introducing antitrust legislation for Nord Stream 2 could potentially force Russians to change their energy law. The Kremlin will not necessarily agree to that since it wants to keep Gazprom’s monopolistic position as an effective foreign policy tool. If the talks failed, the EC could say no to the project, which, according the institution cannot be constructed in a ‚legal void’. The point is that if the issue is not regulated and if Russia simply completes the project through fait accompli, the EU will accept it by acclamation.

On the other hand, the EC-Gazprom talks may result in a quasi-legal regime. This is probable considering the EC’s conciliatory approach visible in the OPAL pipeline dispute, which ended in a decision favorable to Gazprom, as well as in the settlement proposition during the antitrust investigation, which did not force the Russian company to significantly change its actions or bear any consequences for its malpractices, confirmed by the investigation, in Eastern and Central Europe. Therefore, there exist just concerns that the Nord Stream 2 settlement will be equally lenient for Gazprom and thus just a fig leaf to cover a project, which is against the diversification policy and the Energy Union pursued by Brussels.

This is the reason why Polish diplomacy approached the EC’s proposition with trepidation, rather than hope. It is so, despite the fact that there are chances that the talks would at least delay Nord Stream 2. Such a scenario could be advantageous for Poles, because it would give them more time to complete the Baltic Pipe and other diversification projects. The concerns that the EC is pressured by Nord Stream 2 and Gazprom lobbyists in general, are gaining ground because of the purported leniency towards the Russian giant described above.

Should Poland trust the European Commission?