The European Commission has opened an infringement procedure against Bulgaria over the implementation of the South Stream gas pipeline project, the Commission's Internal Market and Services directorate said on Tuesday.
The European Commission sent the Bulgarian authorities on Monday a letter of formal notice, asking the country to suspend the implementation of the South Stream project until it is fully compliant with EU law, a press officer at the Commission's Internal Market and Services directorate told SeeNews in an emailed statement.
"We have already expressed our concerns with compliance with EU energy rules. But we also have grounds to believe that other internal market rules, in particular those related to the award of public contracts, are being breached," the press officer said.
The letter represents the first stage of an infringement procedure.
Bulgarian authorities have one month to reply.
Commenting on the Commission's letter, Bulgarian economy minister Dragomir Stoynev said that the government will continue dialogue with Brussels on the project.
"We will continue the constructive dialogue that we have always held with the European Commission on the South Stream project," Stoynev said, as quoted in a press release of the economy ministry.
The South Stream project should not be held hostage to Russia-Ukraine relations, the economy minister stressed.
Earlier on Tuesday the state-run news agency BTA reported that the European Commission sees two key problems regarding the construction of the gas pipeline in Bulgaria: the fact that the South Stream Bulgaria company has been awarded the design, financing, construction and management of the gas pipeline without the relevant transparent competitive bidding procedures; and that the contracts with subcontractors can give precedence to particular Russian and Bulgarian companies.
The planned South Stream gas pipeline will carry gas from Russia to central and southern Europe via Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia, reaching its full capacity of some 63 billion cubic metres per year by 2017. The total value of the Gazprom-spearheaded project is estimated at some 16 billion euro ($21.8 billion).