Juncker Backtracks on EU’s South Stream Ban
How do you get €300 billion in (probably largely useless) “infrastructure investment” in Europe? Banning a $40 billion project from going forward is probably not going to help, not to mention that this one would actually have been useful. After Gazprom announced last week that it has had enough and is ditching the South Stream pipeline project (see “South Stream Dies” for details) after having invested $5 billion and run into countless politically motivated obstacles, EU commissariat president Juncker engaged in a back-tracking exercise, garnished with some nonsense about “Russia holding Bulgaria to ransom”. Very likely he got an earful from Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov about the EU’s sabotage of the project:
“European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted the $40 billion South Stream natural gas pipeline can still go ahead and accused Russia of holding EU-member Bulgaria to ransom when it said it had abandoned the project.
Speaking after talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, whose country South Stream would traverse making it a major beneficiary, Juncker rebutted Russia’s statement that EU competition rules had killed it. He told reporters issues relating to the pipeline were not insurmountable and he was working with Bulgaria to address them.
Russia said on Monday it had abandoned the pipeline, which would have bypassed Ukraine, Gazprom’s traditional transit route for Russian gas, citing EU competition requirements for a pipeline’s ownership to be divorced from its cargo. It said it was working on an alternative route via Turkey.
Juncker accused Moscow of blackmailing Bulgaria, which retains strong political and economic ties with Moscow and is almost entirely dependent on Russia for its gas. “I am not accepting the simple easy idea that Bulgaria can be blackmailed as far as these energy relations are concerned,” Juncker said.
“We’ll take … all the necessary steps to make sure that our relations with Russia will be improved, but it doesn’t depend only on the willingness of the EU, of the European Commission. To dance a tango … you need two dancers.”
Borisov also said South Stream could be built and agreed it had to comply with EU rules, including legislation known as the third energy package, which limits how much of a pipeline a company can own if it also controls its contents. Further efforts to bring the project in line will be made on Tuesday, when EU energy ministers meet for regular talks. “I hope that all these technical details will be solved at this meeting including the third energy package,” Borisov said. He added he had not received any official notice from Russia that South Stream was not going ahead.
EU sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russia’s calculation could have been that its announcement of South Stream’s demise would place the Commission under pressure from some member states to soften its regulatory stance. At the same time, Russia has a struggle [sic, ed.] to find the cash for South Stream, given a falling oil price and economic sanctions.”
A few remarks to the above: yes, the Bulgarians are understandably up in arms, but had it been up to them, the construction activities would never have been interrupted in the first place. As things stand, the previous Bulgarian government was badgered by the EU and visited by John McCain, whose primary mission was apparently to stop the pipeline from being built. The government announced that all construction on the pipeline would be stopped two hours after McCain left.
Boiko Borisovich, here pictured shortly before jumping down JC Juncker’s throat. We would recommend not angering him too much: he’s a former bodyguard with a black belt in karate. His nickname is “Batman” (no kidding!).
Could it be that Gazprom announced the cancellation merely to put pressure on the EU Commission? It is certainly possible. Note, we doubt that lower oil prices are a “cause” of anything here. This is not an oil pipeline, it is a natural gas pipeline – which is a different, if related market. While bulk sales prices are not entirely independent of market prices, there are long term delivery contracts designed to give pricing and planning security to both consumers and producers.
However, Gazprom does have a financing problem – mainly due to EU sanctions. It can no longer refinance its short term foreign currency denominated debt in Western markets. Obviously this means the company will have to reassess some of its investment plans. And it should be clear that an investment that has so far run into nothing but obstacles from the EU bureaucracy is likely among those to be culled. In fact, even if the “competition” problems are sorted out (which we assume would be quite easy to do – key word: “North Stream”), Gazprom may decide not to go forward, because the financing issue could be seen as too risky.
Juncker says the EU will do whatever it can to improve relations with Russia and it is certainly true that if there are disagreements it always “takes two to tango”. However, let us stop to think for a moment what this means in unambiguous, clear language. From the perspective of the EU (and especially the US) leadership, it means that Russia’s government must accede 100% to every demand they make. We already pointed out that this is an essentially fascist foreign policy. Nothing but complete surrender is acceptable. We don’t think it would be impossible to come to an agreement regarding the Ukraine crisis that everybody could in theory live with (the über-hawks in both the US and Russia excepted – basically the neo-cons in the US and assorted nationalists in Russia. We do have a tad more understanding for the paranoia of former Eastern Bloc countries). By now it should be rather glaringly obvious though that economic sanctions and demonizing the Russian leadership at every opportunity won’t do the trick.
As an aside to all this, it certainly couldn’t possibly get more embarrassing. Only last Monday, the European State propaganda orga…sorry, the European mainstream press, printed triumphalist headlines like this one, which translated means “EU Victory Over Moscow’s Pipeline Policy” – below the headline we read “bureaucrats have brought Putin to his knees, not diplomats”. An appropriate comment on this would be a variation of a famous saying by King Pyrrhus of Epirus: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Russians we shall be utterly ruined.”
Although every bad thing that is not the fault of climate change is allegedly the fault of Putin, it seems the EU commissariat “didn’t really mean it” and wants to see South Stream built after all. Here is an idea: lock them all in a room with Borisov for an hour and let him use his special powers of persuasion on them; that should hasten the process.
Boiko “Batman” Borisov in action
Photo via glasove.com / Author unknown
That looks like it may have hurt.