STRASBOURG – The European Union will pursue pragmatic co-operation with Russia but will not accept any exemptions for Gazprom from EU law, Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, told New Europe on 5 February.
On 1 February, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said Vilnius will not offer any concessions to the Russian gas monopoly as the country seeks a lower price on purchases of natural gas.
There is little love lost between Russia and the Baltic countries. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have also encouraged a European Commission probe into Gazprom’s market practises in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that has irked the Russian gas giant.
On 5 February, Swoboda said in Strasbourg energy security, especially for the Baltic countries, is a very important subject. Lithuania, which will hold the EU’s rotating presidency on the second semester of 2013, has vowed to make energy security a priority.
“We are in close contact with the new government in Lithuania and I think we have to have a strategy of pragmatic co-operation with Russia but, on the other hand, make it very clear that any kind of exemptions for Gazprom is not acceptable. There are certain rules that have been decided in the European Union,” Swoboda told New Europe. “Therefore, I’m also very sceptical about any exemptions for South Stream. It’s much more important to go into new resources - in Central Asia and South Caucasus.”
Russia has openly disagreed with the EU Third Energy Package, which is calling on Gazprom to give third-party access to its pipelines, and has called on Brussels to exempt South Stream from EU regulation.
Swoboda also referred to Ukraine, arguing that Russia is via Gazprom putting pressure on certain countries. “We should have a very clear position that this is not acceptable for us,” he said.
However, Russia‘s energy leverage could be waning. “I think they are no longer in such strong position,” he said. The S&D leader also ruled out a repeat of the gas crisis between Russian and Ukraine in 2006 and 2009. “Because demand is not so high for the moment because of the economic activities, for the moment I don’t any a new gas crisis,” he said.
Asked if the EU is becoming too reliant on Russia, Swoboda said Nord Stream has being built and it was a good project at the time. However, times have changed and there is need for more competition. Shale gas from the United States and liquefied natural gas (LNG) create more possibilities. He added that the EU should prefer pipelines from new sources like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
Meanwhile, German MEP Rebecca Harms, co-president for the Greens party, told New Europe in Strasbourg that there will be a focus on energy in the Council when it meets in March. EU states have to work together for common European interests in gas negotiations with Russia’s Gazprom rather than each member state negotiating on its own and for its own markets, Harms said. “On Nord Stream, we failed. I think, meanwhile, we have achieved a little bit better conditions because of new connections between western European states and Central European states. But that’s only a first step.”
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