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Gas crisis: MEPs worried about impact on public

Representatives of the Russian and Ukrainian gas companies Gazprom and Naftogaz discussed solutions to the ongoing energy crisis at the European Parliament on Thursday. Speaking before the EP Foreign Affairs Committee, Oleh Dubyna, head of Naftogaz, denied that his company was siphoning off gas intended for the European market. For his part, the head of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, who could not take attend the committee meeting, had talks with the President of Parliament.

According to the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, PL), "the EU must act robustly so that a decision is taken by Friday, given the extreme weather conditions affecting the countries of central Europe". He described as "unacceptable" the situation facing the EU in this dispute over transit.  This was not "just a bilateral dispute", added Adrian Severin (PES, RO), who chairs the EP delegation for relations with Ukraine.

Like other MEPs, Jan Marinus Wiersma (PES, NL) called for Russia to resume its gas supplies passing through Ukraine.  "The public doesn't understand why it should pay the price for these cuts", he said. Russia provides 40% of gas imported into the European Union and 80% of that passes through Ukraine. However, the dependence of EU countries varies from 100% (Slovakia) to 0% for around ten Member States including the UK and Spain.

"Ukraine is incapable of interrupting gas supplies from Russia.  We can prove it!", said Oleh Dubyna in response to recent accusations by Russia. He explained that his country was not against paying for the gas at market prices but that the low transit costs imposed by Gazprom must also be raised. International observers should be sent soon to the pipeline distribution centres to check on gas flows.

Michael Gahler (EPP-ED, DE) wanted interconnections between Member States to be improved.  In reply to Claude Turmes (Greens/EFA, LU), who quizzed him on the need to fill the pipelines, Mr Dubyna said it took 36 hours for Russian gas to transit through Ukraine.

EU role in finding a solution

The EU will hold a meeting on Friday of its gas coordination group.  The situation of each Member State will be examined, said the European Commission. Within the EU, the interruption of supplies since Tuesday has chiefly affected Hungary, which depends on Russia for 65% of its gas, Greece (81%) and Bulgaria (90%). Outside the EU, the countries worst affected are the Balkan states, notably Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Serbia, and Turkey.

The European Commission said it was not involved in the negotiations under way between Moscow and Kiev but that it would do everything possible "to facilitate matters".  This position was sharply criticised by Konrad Szymanski (UEN, PL), who argued that "this position has weakened the EU's role in seeking a way out of the crisis.

In the view of Hryhoriy Nemyria, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, "Ukraine has been nudged into taking part in a propaganda war not of our own choosing".  To find a solution to the current crisis, he proposed a treaty on the security of transit of energy resources and Ukraine's participation in the future European energy regulator.

Europe's policy on energy security and diversification of supplies

Several MEPs, including Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Jan Marinus Wiersma and Claude Turmes, called for a European energy security policy which would improve the security of the EU countries and also help diversify sources of supply. Reino Paasilinna (PES, FI), vice-chair of the EP- Russia delegation, urged that the crisis be used to redraw the energy map in Europe.

The option of the Nabucco pipeline, which would bring gas from the Caspian Sea through Turkey, ending in Austria, was supported by Janusz Onyszkiewicz (ALDE, PL). He believed this project should receive EU funding, a view opposed by Esko Seppänen (GUE/NGL, FI), who argued that it should be financed by private and public companies.

The gas exporting countries (Iran, Qatar, Algeria, Venezuela, Turkmenistan and Libya) form, with Moscow, the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, which has recently come to be seen as the OPEC of gas.

The gas crisis will be debated by MEPs, the European Commission and the Council on 14 January at Parliament's plenary session.

08/01/2009

In the chair : Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, PL)