Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, has urged the European Union’s member states to stand by Moldova in a confrontation with Russia over its energy supply.
He accused Russia of “pure blackmail” and said its behaviour towards Moldova was “unacceptable”.
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He urged the EU’s member states to adopt “a strong common approach” and a “clear message” to see off Russia’s threats.
The commissioner has raised the stakes ahead of a meeting next week of energy ministers from the European Union and the Balkan states, who will come together at the annual meeting of the Energy Community, an international organisation sponsored by the EU.
Russia disapproves of the Energy Community and particularly the participation of Ukraine and Moldova, which have joined the Community and are in the process of bringing their rules into line. Russia has rewarded Belarus, which chose to stay outside the Community, with discounted energy prices.
Moldova has asked Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom for a 30% reduction in prices and is also looking for relief from debts that it owes Gazprom, which Oettinger estimated at $4 billion (€3.2bn). But last month, Alexander Novak, Russia’s energy minister, said that in order for discussions to begin on gas price cuts and debt relief, Moldova should “renounce the protocol on entering the Europe Energy Community agreement”.
Novak set his conditions shortly before Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, met Vlad Filat, Moldova’s prime minister, in the Russian resort of Sochi.
Gazprom owns half of Moldova’s gas transit pipelines, and the comments by Novak raised fears that Russia might retaliate by cutting off the 20 billion cubic metres of gas travelling through Moldova to Europe each year. Gas supplies to Europe via Moldova were briefly interrupted in 2006 during a pricing quarrel.
The dispute over Moldova comes shortly after the European Commission opened a market abuse investigation against Gazprom on 4 September. Gazprom is suspected of abusing its dominant position in central and eastern Europe by hindering the free flow of gas and imposing unfair prices in its long-term contracts.
Oettinger said that Russia was the EU’s most important partner for coal, oil and gas “and it is in our interest to prolong this partnership on a stable basis”. But, he added, “it is not acceptable to work with this pressure against Moldova”.
Speaking this week in Brussels, Oettinger said: “My question to the EU is, do we accept this pressure or not? We can say to our Russian partners: if you work with these measures… then we can’t trust you for your long term security of supply.”
Moldova was, Oettinger said, “a test case for a fair partnership for everybody”.
“Our Russian partners should see there is a common approach from the EU, and Putin cannot play this game of divide-and-rule.”
The Energy Community sets common rules for energy markets. At next week’s meeting, energy ministers will decide whether Moldova should be granted more time for implementing the Third Energy Package, which includes rules on unbundling – the separation of generation and transmission businesses – and third-party access to infrastructure.
Oettinger warned Moldova: “It is clear that whoever leaves the Energy Community indirectly leaves the partnership with the EU. It becomes the next Belarus.”
The commissioner was speaking at a conference organised by European Voice to discuss the EU’s internal energy market, a subject on which Oettinger is to present a paper to the Commission next month (click here for more on the event). He told the audience that in his view state aid should be “concentrated on new technologies, on renewables, but in a degressive manner”.
Asked about the possibility of state aid to mature technologies, Oettinger hinted at a tough approach towards the UK’s support for its nuclear industry. He said that “nobody will invest in new nuclear power plants” in the UK without the market support mechanism of a feed-in tariff guaranteeing prices.
Investment was needed, he said, but not just in the UK and not just for nuclear energy. His paper would, he said, aim at creating a Europe-wide market design.