The Bulgarian government reportedly said in a statement it did not breach EU law when it signed deals for the construction of the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline. The government unilaterally noted that it had approved its official position on the legality of the pipeline. “With its position the government presents arguments and motives in support of the decisions the Bulgarian nation has taken and which were the subject of concern at the EU Commission,” the statement said on June 25.
However, it appears that there was no new development that would justify this quote from the Bulgarian government. EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s spokeswoman Sabine Berger told New Europe on June 27 “our concerns as regards compliance with EU law are still the same”.
Sources close to the Bulgarian government in Sofia told New Europe on June 26 they could not confirm information on the Bulgarian government’s change of stance.
The sources noted, however, that a letter by the Commission from June 2 is resolute enough and unequivocal. In the letter of formal notice, which starts an infringement procedure, the European Commission warned Bulgaria of potential breaches of EU law, especially concerning the role of South Stream Bulgaria AD as designer, operator and owner of the pipeline, the legal capacity of Bulgaria for signing the intergovernmental agreement with Russia, and a number of public procurement deals awarded by South Stream Bulgaria AD.
After the launch of the infringement procedure, Bulgarian Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski announced that the country was suspending work on the project until the dispute with the European Commission was settled. At that time, the Commission welcomed Oresharski’s announcement, stressing that this is the right step in response to the concerns it raised.
In relation to the recently adopted European Energy Security Strategy, the Commission proposed to Member States that the South Stream project should be suspended until full compliance with EU legislation is ensured and should be re-evaluated in light of the EU’s energy security priorities.
Internal Market Commission sources told New Europe on June 27 that their position when they issued the letter of formal notice on June 2 still stands. “As you know we sent a letter of formal notice to the Bulgarians. We have not at this stage received a reply from the Bulgarian authorities so we cannot comment further. What we said when we issued the letter of formal notice (line from June 2) still stands,” they said, adding that the deadline is July 2.
On June 24, Austria showed its firm commitment to South Stream. Russian gas monopoly Gazprom signed a deal with Austrian energy company OMV approving the EU country’s section of the Russian-backed South Stream gas pipeline. The Commission has already said that the intergovernmental agreement between Austria and Russia is not in line with EU law. Regarding the agreement between OMV and Gazprom, Berger told New Europe on June 27 that the European Commission takes note and it underlines that it’s of outmost importance that when it comes to South Stream, EU law has to be respected. “We expect the parties to make sure the project is in line with EU law,” she said, referring to the fields of internal energy legislation, public procurement, competition, and environment.
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