Poland Files Suit Against the European Commission for Expanding Russia’s Access to Key German Pipeline

On December 6, the Polish natural gas company PGNiG filed a 14-charge complaint against the European Commission (EC) and the German regulator Bundesnetzagentur, over their decision to allow Gazprom exclusive access to 80% of the Opal pipeline.   The existing Nord Stream pipeline that brings Russian gas directly to Germany (circumventing Ukraine and Central and Eastern Europe) connects with the Opal pipeline, where its capacity has thus far been limited.  This cap has restrained Russia from using the full capacity of Nord Stream and has also loomed over Russian plans to double that same capacity via its Nord Stream 2 project.

According to PGNiG, “[The EC] is destroying the development of the competitive gas market and expanding the privileges enjoyed by Gazprom, which can in turn lead to the Russian company acquiring a monopoly in the supply of gas to Central and Eastern Europe.”   The EC made efforts to avoid such a dependency when it called for the cancellation of the South Stream pipeline, but, in the view of many European leaders, is now taking steps that run counter to that past effort.  The perception of a double standard is fueling significant divisions within the EU and among NATO members.

Both the EC and Bundesnetzagentur have yet to respond to the complaint.  On November 28, however, the German regulator signed a contract with Gazprom that exempted the company from the EU’s Third Energy Package regulations with regard to this deal.  Gazprom’s exports to Europe have increased by 8.8% this past year (largely due to the relative affordability of piped natural gas), a number that can be expected to grow with expanded pipeline development (and access) such as that envisioned by the Opal decision and pending Nord Stream 2 project.

It is likely that the fracturing these decisions are causing among EU and NATO members will get worse, if decisions such as this continue along their current trajectory.  Alternatively, if the double standard is addressed through increased permissiveness of other Russian pipeline projects crossing Southern Europe (such as Turk Stream) or a revival of South Stream, dependencies on Russian supplies could also become more problematic.