Lithuania to focus on external suppliers at EU Energy Council meeting

Sept. 20, 2013 at 12:03 AM   |   0 comments

VILNIUS, Lithuania, Sept. 20 (UPI) -- Lithuania's goal of wringing a fair deal on energy from Russia and other non-European Union suppliers was on the agenda for meetings this week in Vilnius.

Since assuming the rotating EU Council presidency in July, Lithuania has focused on speeding the establishment of a single European energy market by 2014 and implementing the aims of the EU's "Third Energy Package," which call for a tough approach to external suppliers such as neighboring Russia.

Those solidarity aims were to be front-and-center at an informal meeting of the EU Energy Council held under the chairmanship of Lithuanian Energy Minister Jaroslav Neverovic, the ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

The meetings were to focus on the "assurance of reliable energy supplies at competitive prices, and better coordination of the positions of EU member states in their forming agreements with energy suppliers from third countries," the statement said.

The EU last year adopted new measures to assert more control over bilateral energy deals between member nations and third parties. Under the measures, Brussels leadership has to be notified of any energy sector deal information "before and after" negotiations with third countries.

If the deals are deemed to undermine the goals of a single energy market or are insufficiently transparent, the commission can sue member states to change the terms.

The goal, Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said, was to "improve internal coordination so that the EU and its member states act together and speak with one voice" on issues regarding regional energy security -- and specifically its efforts to lessen dependence on Russia for natural gas.

Lithuania and other Baltic nations dependent on Russian natural gas backed the measures, which seek to prevent a monopolistic position by companies such as Russia's Gazprom. But the legislation was watered down in a compromise with bigger EU nations, which have jealously guarded their proprietary information on bilateral energy deals.

They agreed to share the data with the commission, but won the right to keep it confidential from other member states. Also exempted were instances in which commercial entities rather than governments are making the deals -- they are not obliged to submit their content to the EU executive, EurActiv reported.

Another Third Energy Package aim strongly backed by Lithuania is its provision to "unbundle" ownership of natural gas production and transmission lines such as those operated by Gazprom.

The EU contends such "vertically integrated" systems squelch market diversification and violate antitrust principles, resulting in artificially high energy prices.

Vilnius was embroiled in a dispute with the Russian company over efforts to unbundle the Lithuanian gas import and distribution company Lietuvos Dujos, which is 37.1-percent-owned by Gazprom.

The government moved to spin off the transmission system into a separate company, Amber Grid, by 2014 to bring it in line with the Third Energy Package, but Gazprom resisted until it finally voted to approve the deal in June as the result of what called "the coercion and pressure exerted by the state authorities of Lithuania, including threats to apply sanctions."

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