June 9, 2017 / 1:33 PM / 3 years ago

EU executive seeks mandate for talks with Russia over Nord Stream 2

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s executive on Friday asked 28 governments in the bloc to give it the authority to negotiate with Russia to ensure its laws are respected in building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a project that has divided EU states.

A handout by Nord Stream 2 claims to show the first pipes for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being delivered by rail to the German logistics hub Mukran on the island of Rugen, Germany, in this undated photo provided to Reuters on March 23, 2017. Axel Schmidt/Courtesy of Nord Stream 2/Handout via REUTERS

Poland, the Baltic states and others say Nord Stream 2 would increase EU dependence on Russia’s Gazprom, which already supplies about a third of the bloc’s gas. Backers such as Germany say it will offer the EU cheaper supplies.

The bloc wants to diversify EU gas supplies and the Commission has said the pipeline could let “a single supplier” - Russia - strengthen its position in the EU market.

“Nord Stream 2 does not contribute to the (EU) Energy Union’s objectives,” Energy Commissioner Maros Sefcovic said.

“If the pipeline is nevertheless built, the least we have to do is to make sure that it will be operated in a transparent manner and in line with the main EU energy market rules,” he said in a statement.

EU states now need to examine the proposal from Brussels, which says it wants “a special legal framework” with Moscow to ensure the bloc’s energy rules apply to offshore parts of the pipeline, which starts beyond the EU’s jurisdiction in Russia and goes under the Baltic Sea.

European Council President Donald Tusk has said he is against expanding Nord Stream and has told the Commission any mandate they seek must be very demanding on Russia.

The new pipeline, which will have capacity to pump 55 billion cubic metres of gas a year to a terminal in Germany, is expected to start operating in 2019. Construction has begun.

Berlin, which dismisses questions about the legality of the plan at the EU-level, says the project is purely commercial.

The Nord Stream 2 company said the Commission’s plan to negotiate an agreement was unnecessary. “The German regulator already confirmed that there is no legal void that needs to be addressed,” it said in a statement.

Germany’s Uniper (UN01.DE), Austria’s OMV (OMVV.VI) and France’s Engie (ENGIE.PA) are working with Gazprom on the plan.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Robert-Jan Bartunek, Editing by Edmund Blair

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