The European Commission is concerned over the planned amendments to Bulgaria's energy legislation which affect the South Stream gas pipeline as they are in breach of EU law, European energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger's spokesperson said, as quoted by news portal EurActiv.
In the beginning of April Bulgaria's National Assembly adopted in principle a bill making it possible to exclude the Bulgarian offshore section of the planned South Stream gas pipeline from the scope of the EU's Third Energy Package, which regulates third-party access to gas transport infrastructure in the EU. Under the bill, the 24-kilometre Bulgarian offshore section of the pipeline would have the legal status of a facility which does not cross EU territory, whereas the onshore section will have the status of a gas interconnector.
The Commission's concerns as regards the proposed amendment of the Bulgarian energy law relate to the explicit exclusion from the Third Energy Package of what Bulgaria calls the "sea gas pipeline" defined as an off-shore pipeline with some on-shore section and installations as well, news portal EurActiv quoted Sabine Berger as saying after a meeting between Oettinger and Bulgarian economy minister Dragomir Stoynev in Brussels.
She stressed that EU law applies to infrastructure under EU jurisdiction, including Bulgarian territorial waters and Bulgarian exclusive economic zones.
“The length of the on-shore section of the "sea gas pipeline" is irrelevant for the Commission's assessment of the proposed amendments as regards their compatibility with the gas directive”, Berger said.
Berger added that the Commission was also concerned about the broader Bulgarian Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia on South Stream, which the Commission considers in conflict with EU law, like other IGAs on South Stream.
All EU member states involved in the South Stream project have authorised Oettinger to hold talks with Russia on the gas pipeline construction. These rules, prepared by a working group, should be used as a base for the re-negotiation of the intergovernmental agreements.
"If the South Stream pipeline will be built in violation of EU laws, including on public procurement, or if it will be operated in violation of EU laws, the Commission will take the necessary steps to ensure EU legislation will be applied," Berger concluded.
For its part, the Bulgarian economy ministry, in a press release issued after the same meeting, said that according to Stoynev the bill in no way contravenes EU law.
Stoynev told Oettinger that the bill is still pending final adoption, the economy ministry said, adding that the two officials had agreed on holding joint expert meetings in the coming weeks to discuss the proposed legislative changes.
Last week Bulgaria's energy ministry said the country will seek compensation if the European Commission decides to block the South Stream gas pipeline since its economy is dependent on the project's implementation. Earlier that day, the European Parliament adopted a resolution, urging to call off the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline.
South Stream, spearheaded by Russia's Gazprom, aims to diversify gas routes within the European Union and to provide stable gas supplies from Russia to central and southern Europe. The offshore section of the pipeline is to pass through the economic zones of Russia, Turkey and Bulgaria, while its onshore section is designed to pass through the territories of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria.
South Stream is planned to go live by the end of 2015 with a pipeline capacity of some 63 billion cubic meters per year.