Gazprom and Greece are both in deep trouble with the European Commission, which is one of the reasons that they were making eyes at each other in Athens on Tuesday as they worked to undermine EU energy solidarity by addressing the issue of building a pipeline across the Balkans.
The Commission is scheduled Wednesday to unveil a charge sheet against Gazprom on accusations that it abused its market power.
Greece, pinned to the wall by increasingly angry creditors, also made no secret of its willingness to play the Russian card and potentially gain a lucrative energy project.
Alexei Miller, Gazprom’s CEO, was in the Greek capital for talks on Tuesday. After their conclusion, Panagiotis Lafazanis, Greece’s energy minister, said he hoped that a deal to build a pipeline running from Greece’s border with Turkey to its frontier with Macedonia will soon be signed.
He also said he was confident that the Commission wouldn’t have a problem with the scheme.
“I believe that the EU will support the project of this pipeline, as we seek this work to be done in a manner fully consistent with the Community institutional framework,” he said.
Athens and Moscow are still smarting over the decision to abandon the South Stream gas pipeline last year. The pipeline, which was supposed to deliver gas from across the Black Sea through Bulgaria and on to the rest of the EU, was killed by Moscow in December. The project had fallen victim to the souring of relations between the EU and Russia following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and to concerns that it violated the EU’s energy market provisions.
The Commission was cautious about the new scheme, dubbed Turkish Stream as it is supposed to channel gas across the Black Sea over Turkey and then on to Greece and points north.
“We are […] ready to offer our assessment on any such agreement, any such deal and its implications when we have something to base our assessment on,” said Commission spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen.
However, a source close to the Commission told POLITICO that the view in Brussels is that Turkish Stream won’t fly. Miguel Arias Cañete, the European commissioner for energy and climate action, also questioned the project’s viability during an April 16 meeting with Lafazanis, saying any energy infrastructure would have to comply with EU law, the source said.
The project has always had as much of a political as an economic dimension. Russia has used it to strengthen regional alliances at a time when it has few European friends. Earlier this month, the foreign ministers of Greece, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey declared their support for Turkish Stream.
Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the proposed pipeline “is built for political reasons; to circumvent Ukraine,” adding that it was aimed at undercutting the EU’s efforts to diversify its energy sources.
Those types of questions over Gazprom’s intentions are largely behind the Commission’s anti-trust and market abuse probe. Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, is expected to unleash the wrath of the Commission against Gazprom on Wednesday — it has been accused of abusing its market power against some central European states largely dependent on Russian gas for their energy needs.
Courtesy Kalina Oroschakoff, Politico