January 12, 2009
Brussels – The European Union will know who to blame if Russian gas supplies via Ukraine do not resume on Tuesday, as promised on Monday by Moscow and Kiev. “I expect gas supplies to resume tomorrow at 8 am (0700 GMT). If not, I will be able to say who is responsible,” said European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
Piebalgs was speaking after an emergency meeting of EU energy minister in Brussels.
Addressing reporters, the commissioner also stressed that once the taps are reopened, it could take as little as 24 hours for Russian gas to reach Europe, if both sides do their utmost to speed up deliveries. Experts say it would normally take about three days for the Siberian gas to reach EU customers.
The EU has so far refrained from taking sides in the long-standing commercial dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which has resulted in a 30 per cent drop in supplies to Europe.
But it is now ready to name and shame those responsible for any further delays following a new deal on gas monitors signed in Brussels by representatives of the EU, Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom and Ukraine’s Naftogaz, whose pipelines are used by Moscow to deliver gas to Europe.
Under the deal, which had to be signed twice within the space of a few days, 25 experts from the European Union, Ukraine and Russia are to monitor gas flows at five compressor stations in both Ukraine and Russia and another three stations in Slovakia and Romania.
Piebalgs said the signing of the three-party agreement contained “clear obligations for each and every party”.
“If any of the parties are unable to provide their monitors, it will be easy to tell,” he said.
At their meeting in Brussels, energy ministers were called to discuss ways of dealing with the crisis, which has left many European countries having to dig deep into their gas reserves.
It has also sparked a row between Slovakia and neighbouring Austria over Bratislava’s plans to meet its own shortfall by re-opening a Soviet-era nuclear reactor shut down by the EU for safety reasons.
As ministers met in Brussels, Austria lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission.
“It is unacceptable to push nuclear power through the back door because of the gas conflict,” Austrian Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich said of Slovakia’s plans to switch on the reactor at the Bohunice plant.
A spokesman for Commissioner Piebalgs said the reopening of the plant, in the absence of an EU deal, would be “a clear violation of Slovakia’s (EU) accession treaty.”
Austria’s government and public are strongly opposed to nuclear energy. The country’s only nuclear power plant in Zwentendorf never went into operation, following a popular vote in 1978.
At their meeting in Brussels, EU ministers also called for “concrete measures” to deal with the gas shortages and to prevent future crises of this kind.
These include greater transparency on gas flows and stocks held by member states, better interconnections and the diversification of transport routes and sources.
“All European member states must do their bit so that more sources (of energy) are opened up and delivery routes created,” Peter Hintze, a top official from the German economics ministry, said in Brussels.
Ministers also called for ways to ensure better solidarity between member states.
At the moment, Hungary is supplying some of its gas to EU hopeful Serbia, while Poland is sending trucks loaded with gas to Slovakia.
In a joint statement, EU ministers said resuming supplies immediately was the best way to “rebuild the credibility” of Russia and Ukraine as reliable gas suppliers.