LUBMIN, GERMANY - APRIL 08: A worker walks past sections of pipe that will be used in the OPAL pipeline on April 8, 2010 near Lubmin, Germany. The OPAL and NEL pipelines will carry natural gas from Russia arriving through the Nord Stream pipeline from the Baltic Sea across Germany and to other countries in Europe. The Nord Stream project delivers Russian natural gas directly to western Europe and avoids countries in between, such as Poland and Ukraine. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Sections of pipe in northern Germany that will be used to receive Russian gas through the Nord Stream pipeline © Getty

Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, has weighed in against the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring more Russian gas to Germany, urging strict regulation of a project he fears will strengthen Moscow.

In a forthright letter to the European Commission, seen by the Financial Times, Mr Tusk expressed his “negative view” of the proposed pipeline under the Baltic Sea, saying it would “not serve the best European interest” and leave Ukraine “at Russia’s mercy”.

Addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, the letter shows the divisions in the EU over Nord Stream 2, which is owned by Gazprom, the Russian gas group. Brussels is struggling to exert influence over the project, which is backed by Germany but strongly opposed by Poland and other states that do not want to extend their dependence on Russian gas.

Mr Tusk notes that allowing the pipeline to be built would run “opposite” to EU and commission efforts to bolster energy security in the wake of Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014.

“It will allow [Russia] to close down the transit route through Ukraine, leaving our partners at Russia’s mercy, while its aggression has not ended,” he writes.

“It also contradicts the objective we have set for the energy union . . . it will make us more dependent on Russian supplies and it will concentrate gas transit along the existing route. Also, it will strengthen Gazprom’s position as the EU’s dominant gas supplier. In short, it will not serve the best European interest.”

The EU wants to keep Russian gas flowing through Ukraine after Kiev’s contract with Gazprom expires in 2019. The contract is worth billions of dollars in annual transit fees for Ukraine.

However Nord Stream 2 says its project, which would run from St Petersburg to Germany, is a commercial enterprise outside the control of the bloc. Efforts to apply the EU’s energy laws to the offshore pipeline were rejected by German network regulators and the commission’s legal service this year. Poland in particular suspects Mr Juncker of yielding to German pressure to avoid disrupting the project.

As a concession to countries opposed to the pipeline, Brussels is preparing a new approach, seeking a mandate allowing it to negotiate an agreement with Russia that would set rules for Nord Stream 2.

Mr Tusk’s letter shows that he wants this commission mandate to be as demanding as possible. He has encouraged Mr Juncker to require that “all our rules . . . as well as our political objectives are applied to this project in full”.

So far Maroš Šefčovič, commission vice-president for energy union, has said he will seek simply to apply the principles of the bloc’s energy rules. This imprecise mandate has worried some critics of the pipeline, who fear it will be exploited by Germany and other supporters of the project.

Nine EU members — Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Romania — rely heavily on Russian gas. They wrote to Mr Juncker last year declaring their concern that the project would increase this reliance and create geopolitical risks.

National regulators in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia need to approve Nord Stream 2 on environmental and technical grounds. That should be reasonably straightforward as the project follows the same route as the first Nord Stream pipeline, operating since 2011.

Danish politicians are drafting legislation to allow foreign and security policy considerations to be taken into account in assessing whether projects such as Nord Stream 2 should be allowed. Copenhagen will decide if it will apply the new laws once it knows the outcome of the commission’s efforts to negotiate an agreement with Moscow, according to a European official.

A Nord Stream 2 representative expressed concern that Mr Tusk would make political declarations about the investment since Mr Tusk has “rejected repeatedly” the company’s offer to meet him to present the project to him.

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