ATHENS – Serbia is concerned with the future of the Gazprom-driven South Stream gas pipeline following the deterioration of relations between Russia and the European Union with the latter warning it will block the project unless it complies with EU regulations.
“For Serbia it [South Stream] has been the cornerstone of our industrial strategy for the next 10 years so the situation is worrying us,” Vuk Jeremic, former foreign minister of Serbia, told New Europe on the sidelines of the Athens Forum 2014 on September 15.
“Right now the bets are off. But I’m hopeful that there will be progress in the future. But it would have to be part of a wider development of normalisation of relations between Russia and the West which currently does not seem to be in the making,” he said.
Reminding that Gazprom is one of the biggest foreign investors in Serbia, Jeremic stressed that such a project would be of immense importance for his country’s economy so there are reasons for Belgrade to be worried.”
On September 16, Serbian media quoted Gazprom official Aleksandr Siromyatin as saying works to build the Serbian stretch of South Stream will start in October. He noted that construction work in Serbia will be carried out regardless of the situation in Bulgaria, where the work on South Stream pipeline has been suspended until the project is fully harmonised with the EU regulations.
But the European Commission warned Serbia on September 17 that it must respect EU law. Marlene Holzner, the spokeswoman for EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, noted that since Serbia is not part of the EU, it’s not the bloc’s internal market rules that will apply to them. “In terms of energy rules that might be broken that will become also at a later stage and that will be the case when the pipeline is operating,” she said.
“However, whether it is Serbia or whether it is Bulgaria, if the idea is to bring gas from Russia to Europe you have to go through European territory and that means, even if there is a small stretch, you want to build until the very end and … if you do business on European territory, you do have to respect European legislation,” Holzner said.
The tension between Brussels and Moscow and the Ukraine-Russia gas dispute have also raised concerns of another gas crisis.
Danilo Türk, former president of Slovenia, told New Europe at the Athens Forum that his country is able to handle potential gas disruptions. “But the problem is wider, it has to do with Europe, its own energy security, its own energy future and I think this is a very real question that would have to be addressed very soon,” Türk said.
The former Slovenian president suggested that the whole energy situation in the EU should be one of the first tasks of the new Junker Commission, adding that “there has to be some serious talk with Russia”.
Both Türk and Jeremic told New Europe that they cannot exclude the possibility of another gas crisis with the latter reminding that “we’ve seen such situations in the recent past when the overall situation was a lot easier than it is today”.
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