The reason an EU-Russia task force on the South Stream gas pipeline project was formed is not to renegotiate the Inter-Governmental Agreements between the countries concerned and Russia but to look at ways of using possible exemptions from the Third Energy Package, Russia’s ambassador to the EU has said.
In early December, the European Commission cautioned that the bilateral Inter-Governmental Agreements on South Stream between Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Austria and Croatia had to be renegotiated in order to comply with EU law on pipeline management, third-party access and pricing.
Vladimir Chizhov said at an interview at New Europe Studios on 28 February that “those Inter-Governmental Agreements were signed well before this so-called EU Third Energy Package of the EU entered into force. So there is a basic rule of international law that any new law or any new agreement should not have retrospective force, which is a position that we fully support”.
The ambassador said that none of the six EU member states that are involved in South Stream as well as non-EU member Serbia has initiated a procedure of renegotiating those Inter-Governmental Agreements.
The six EU countries involved in South Stream have sent a joint letter to the European Commission requesting it to discuss the issue with Russia on their behalf. Chizhov said the Inter-Governmental Agreements cannot be abrogated even because there is no such provision in them.
The spokeswoman for EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, Sabine Berger, told New Europe on 7 March that South Stream, as any other pipeline project in the EU, has to respect EU law – so among others the provisions of the Third Energy Package.
Chizhov said the EU-Russia task force on South Stream has been set and they already had their first meeting at the level of the Russian deputy minister of energy and the director general of energy of the European Commission.
Russia is prepared to discuss with the Commission possible exemptions from the Third Energy Package on South Stream, the ambassador said. “They exchanged basic outlines of their respective approaches but the subject of these discussions is not changing the Inter-Governmental Agreements, is to look at ways of using possible flexibilities or exemptions from the Third Energy Package,” Chizhov said.
Berger told New Europe that the objective of the South Stream Working Group is to find a sound legal framework for the operation of South Stream on EU territory which meets the applicable European legal requirements, in order to ensure legal certainty. “The major legal issues to be discussed are unbundling/ownership of the pipeline, the allocation of capacities and tariff regulation, taking into account the economics of the pipeline,” she said.
The conclusions would help the relevant National Regulatory Authorities and the European Commission reach their decisions and serve as a basis for the adaptation of the existing Inter-Governmental Agreements between the countries concerned and Russia, the EU energy spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, Chizhov criticised the EU Third Energy Package, saying it “is not among the best achievements of the European Union to put it mildly”. He added there is no chance of Russia approving the Third Energy Package in its present form. “Perhaps it was conceived with the best intentions – very much like the road to hell,” he quipped.
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