Defence Policy

Saryusz-Wolski: Not only is Nord Stream 2 detrimental energetically, but, above all, it is detrimental geopolitically [Interview]

Image Credit: Energetyka24
Image Credit: Energetyka24

In a conversation with, MEP Jacek Saryusz Wolski (Polish Civic Platform Party), involved in the struggle against the Nord Stream 2 initiative, states that the project is creating a major threat for the stability of the whole region. Creating this pipe may result in creating a context, within which Gazprom is going to unilaterally terminate the long-term agreement regulating the gas supply for Poland. The events may also result in realization of gas transit through Ukraine. The new Gazprom’s initiative shall be stopped, at any cost. Some real chance within that scope exists, however one should remember that geopolitical argument shall be treated with utmost priority. Energy and law come in the second place. The former argument is harder to manipulate, and it is, without any doubt, louder.

Piotr Maciążek: Maroš Šefčovič, European Commissioner for Energy Union, recently published a report, pertaining the development of this project. At the same time, some statements were made, pertaining the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline. I have got an impression that the Brussels authorities are going to put a legal corset over the pipe, and in no way would EU block this investment, within the scope of its implementation. Hence my questions – within what scope the European Commission is going to help us, in our struggle against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline?

Jacek Saryusz–Wolski: The statements made by the European Commission, regarding Nord Stream 2, are very partial. In my report covering the European foreign policy, related to Energy, from 2007, I suggested that the problem related to Nord Stream 1 (at the time) shall be treated holistically. Not only is this a matter related to energy and infrastructure, it is also tied to the foreign policy and security. Interpreting the issue in this way did not take place, since neither Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, nor Federica Mogherini, her successor felt obliged to present this point of view. Thus, we encounter incomplete argumentation, pertaining the Nord Stream 2 initiative, in fact, a reduction-driven argumentation, limited to the issue of compliance of the pipe with the third energy package of the EU and the rule of access for the third parties, to its capacity. Meanwhile, shared foreign policy and security policy is a part of the European law and the EU acquis. There, it is too obvious that Nord Stream 2 constitutes a contradiction for the foundations, on which the aforesaid policy is based. It is a wrong assumption to consider energy as any other goods, when it is being managed by a monopolist supplier – Gazprom. We shall also add the fact that the supplier is political, since Gazprom is an external expression of the Kremlin’s policy. It is obvious that the Nord Stream 2 issue shall be treated within the context of geopolitics by Brussels, and the interpretation shall extend beyond the energy policy or the economy. “Light artillery” is being used against the Russian pipe in the Baltic sea, the heavy weapons are still invisible. The heaviest arguments are related to the threats for the Member States themselves, and for the partners (including Ukraine), and to questioning the policy pursued by the Eastern neighbours.

So, do you think that the fate of Ukraine, a country located outside the territory of the EU, is going to create a “resonance” in Brussels? Will it be considered by the Germans, the French and by other superpowers, in connection with Nord Stream 2?

We are right, within the scope of the fact that this project contradicts the EU third energy package, energy policy, or even the idea of the Energy Union, the meaning of which, considering the initial assumptions, has been diminished and we got rid of the relevant related content. I want to state that we do not use heavier arguments which are harder to be manipulated, both within the scope of the technology, as well as within the scope of the law. Here, I am referring to the area of pure geopolitics, our security and the assumptions related to foreign policy, the aim of which is to reduce our dependence on Russia, and other neighbouring states. I think that had it not been for Nord Stream I, the fate of our Eastern neighbours could have been altered. This is the pipe which lets Moscow involve us in its powerplay, and inflict pressure on this region of Europe. Today, in a way which is quite narrow, we treat Nord Stream 2, as if it was a commercial or energy-focused project. Responsibilities related to the project taken by the Commissioners like Šefčovič and Canete (responsible for climate and energy - eds.) are being reduced. This is a mistake. Security is the most important aspect, particularly in the current geopolitical context.

Speaking briefly, you tend to disagree with Angela Merkel’s statement, referring to Nord Stream 2, calling it a purely commercial initiative?

Obviously this is not a commercial initiative. Commercial initiatives are not being negotiated by Sigmar Gabriel and Vladimir Putin.

Coming back to the issues related to the EU. What is the actual attitude towards the Nord Stream 2 initiative, shown by the organs of the European Union? I am asking this question also within the context referring to Vice-Chancellor Gabriel, who – in his conversation with Putin – stated that he is going to diminish the European Commissions influence on the new Gazprom’s initiative in the Baltic Sea region. Is the atmosphere at the Commission positive enough for Berlin to realize its energy-related business?

A great clue is offered by the release, published after the conversation between Gabriel and Putin took place. There, a message is that the Nord Stream 2 issue shall be pulled away from Brussels (to make it impossible for the EU to interrupt) and that it should be solved at the level of the national policy of a member state. This means that the plan is exactly opposite. Secondly, your question contains an erroneous assumption. There is no such thing as unanimous Brussels, European Commission etc. These are very complex, multi-voiced organisms, where a clash of different forces and beliefs occurs. When it comes to the European Parliament, that I know quite well, then my fraction, which is the largest – European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) - condemns the Nord Stream 2 initiative, both within the scope of the foreign policy, and security policy, as well as within the scope of energy policy. In the exact order mentioned here. This stance stresses the fact that the Gazprom’s pipe contradicts the EU interest within all of the aforementioned areas. No European Parliament fraction adopted such stance so far. The conservative fraction (including the Polish members of the Law and Justice party – editor’s note) is being paralysed by the British conservatives. Tories – referring to the Royal Dutch Shell – are against criticizing the Nord Stream 2 initiative. On the other hand, our fraction was able to vote against this stance, even though French, German or Austrian MEPs were against that. These countries are the ones where the companies involved in the new Gazprom’s initiative are based. Other political groups in the European Parliament have not reached an agreement related to their stance within that matter, which translates into the fact that there is no certainty whether. within the report authored by Marek Gróbarczyk (Polish Law and Justice party) covering the issue of the direction of development for the Energy Union, which is going to be voted during a plenary session of the EP in December, it would be possible to implement amendment related to the Nord Stream 2 initiative, within the scope of the stance taken by the European Parliament. The EP is sill divided, the fight is still going on. European Commission also lacks coherence. You will hear a different opinion at the Directorate-General for Energy, a different one at the Directorate-General for Environment, and a separate stance is going to be taken by the Directorate dealing with competition. It is also worth noting that there, the concluded anti-trust investigation against Gazprom, is still politically suspended.

I wanted to ask you about the anti-trust proceedings…

The procedure has been finalized a year ago, however the results have not yet been consumed.

Is this process being blocked politically?

Yes. The main line of thought suggests that the proceedings shall be suspended due to the Minsk Memorandums (related to Ukraine – editor’s note), due to the steps taken by Russia, due to the situation in Syria. The fundamental issue in the proceedings carried out against Gazprom stems from the main accusation against the Russian supplier – as it is using its monopolist position in the Central Europe to its advantage. Meanwhile, Nord Stream 2 constitutes a visible symptom of using that position. Thus, should the results of the investigation be used – and we have submitted Parliamentary Questions regarding that issue already – then Gazprom would have to face a problem. At the moment the Russians are involved in talks, the aim of which is to reach some amicable solution.

Let’s go away for a moment, from the issues related to the European Union. Poland, in the words made by Konrad Szymanski, announced that it is going to block the Nord Stream 2 initiative. Will we make it?

I highly value Minister Szymanski, within the area of energy we have been cooperating at the European Parliament. This is a good idea, however actions speak louder than words in this case. If announcements are made, then chances for potential success are diminished.

Starting from the moment when the new government began its term, some specifics do emerge. For example, Minister Gróbarczyk announces that he is going to file in complaints against the Germans. He states that Nord Stream 2 may block development of our ports, since the depth of the sailing routes is going to be reduced. Supposedly, there could be a problem with letting in the ships with maximum draught, that may be used in the Danish Straits. Would such confrontation with the Germans be effective?

This type of claims needs to be submitted. We must gain access to the water forums. We must also remember that a similar issue has been raised, during the negotiations related to Nord Stream 1.

And the gas terminal…

With a limited effect. Thus we must do it, but we must avoid false hopes. Particularly due to the fact that the other party can afford better lawyers. This is sad – but this is how it is.

And what about the Baltic Pipe idea, endorsed by the new government? There are some claims that such initiative would block the Nord Stream 2 initiative, since it would cross the latter pipeline. Is there any “case” related, within the play that is going on?

There is a case – the pipelines shall not cross. Unfortunately, creation of the Baltic Pipe would take place in 2022. While the works related to Nord Stream 2 are planned to be finalized in 2019. It is a race. Whoever finishes first, wins, and it seems that the Gazprom’s initiative is going to be first here. Of course, if it is ever successful – I refuse to make such assumptions. Baltic Pipe would have been a good solution years ago, in a form of the Norwegian gas pipeline – even though its development was fairly advanced, being pursued by the PM Buzek’s government at the time – it has never been finalized. I – at the time – was issuing an opinion on compliance of that pipe with the European law. I was talking to the Norwegian PM, discussing the gas supply for Poland. Moreover, Mr. Piotr Naimski was dealing with the Norwegian pipe, representing the cabinet of Prime Minister Buzek. It is a great loss and shame that the government led by Leszek Miller decided to cancel the project. If the Norwegian pipeline had been created, then the issue would have been non-existent. And now, the new government gets back to this project, however I am afraid that we do not have enough time, considering the Nord Stream 2 context.

I would like to ask you about the environmental issues. The Gazprom’s project may be delayed by the Espoo conference regulations, requiring costly environmental research to be carried out.

We had been using the environmental arguments at the time when Nord Stream I was being constructed. There is still a great need to use them, however we cannot overestimate the effectiveness of that method. We were unable to stop the Nord Stream I initiative with such arguments. Thanks to them, the project may be only delayed.

Can we count on the Baltic states within that scope? It is up to them, whether we will be able to use the convention…

In the times of the Nord Stream I project, it was hard to mobilize the Swedes, Finns, Estonians, with the use of environmental argumentation. Maybe this time it would be different. Additional argument pertaining the military defence of the pipe has emerged.

Can we count on some eco-organizations? I have sent requests for information to the Polish environmental organizations, regarding the Nord Stream 2 project, and the interest in that issue, even though it is related to Baltic, is non-existent. It turns out that no professionals work within these organizations, that could make statements related to the pipe, since these institutions are focused solely on promotion of the renewable energy sources.

I would not want to asses the eco-organizations and the sources of financing of those organizations… There is, however, that single category of environmentalists, which I value very highly. There are some though, who seem to be working for an external party. At the moment I am cooperating with MEP Turmes of the Green Party, within the scope of the Nord Stream 2 problem. I have been battling him within the area of coal, and today we are working together on a written declaration, directed against Nord Stream 2. We must gather enough signatures, so that our objections regarding the pipe reach the Commission and the European Council. The Greens, who are idealistic, are our allies. However, those who get funding from Russia, are not going to follow us.

Have I understood it correctly – your initiative raised at the EP may bring Nord Stream 2 problem in front of the European Council?

This will let us amplify the problem, making it more difficult to silently proceed with it, without political and social control.

I wanted to ask you about the tenders. The government has announced that it is going to fight for absolute enforcement of the European law, within the scope of the Nord Stream 2 – related tenders. Alexey Miller, head of the Gazprom company, claims that more than 50% of the orders are going to be realized by the Russian businesses.

I consider raising this issue a mistake. First, by doing so, we assume that the pipe will be created. Second, we are going to face questions – are we against the detrimental project, or do we want to simply get some money. The response may disarm us immediately. Once, there was a proposal, offering us an option to be connected to Nord Stream I. Now, part of the tenders may include the Polish companies. Will it make the pipe any less detrimental geopolitically?

Discussing the Nord Stream 2 – what the impact of the pipe on the energy security of Poland is going to be?

Energy security situation will be worse, since the Yamal Pipe may be deactivated. Moreover, the legal background in Germany makes it possible to store the gas at the gas storage facilities, some of which have been sold to Gazprom. The neighbouring countries in need of the blue fuel are next in the queue. 

Indeed, Polish Gaz System did warn us about this…

This is a dangerous situation, also within the business dimension. What large energy-consuming company is going to start investment in Poland, since it may be cut off from gas supplies, due to the decisions made by Kremlin? Or the conjunction of the Russian – German interest?

And what about the Nord Stream’s impact on the Central Europe? In 2019, Ukraine is going to face an event of expiration, related to the agreement regulating the transit of the Russian gas. Is Gazprom going to stop pumping the resource through Ukraine?

The Ukraine’s situation is painfully clear. PM Yatsenuk states that not only is the initiative detrimental economically, but also politically, since it excludes Ukraine from transit and would impose more Russian pressure on Kiev. Even a gas blackmail may be the case here. Nord Stream 2 may strangle the country economically. Thus, the EU Eastern Partnership policy is denied. Ukraine is going to be pushed into the orbit, within which it is going to be dependent on Russia.

There is one more issue connecting Poland and Ukraine, within the scope of Nord Stream 2. Maroš Šefčovič claims that the European companies have points of gas reception defined in their agreements, signed with Gazprom. The only point for Poland is located at the Ukrainian border. The question is – is Gazprom going to, ending the gas transit through Ukraine, negotiate that issue with Warsaw, or is it going to unilaterally terminate the agreement regarding the blue fuel supplies?

I am surprised with your being surprised. Gazprom would present us with a fait accompli.

Interview conducted by Piotr Maciążek.