Backer: EU energy proposal has safeguards

Jan. 27, 2012 at 6:33 AM
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STRASBOURG, France, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Brussels' push to insert itself into energy deals between member states and non-EU countries will have confidentiality safeguards, a parliamentary backer says.

Krisjanis Karins, a Christian Democrat member of the European Parliament from Latvia, is shepherding the commission's proposal through the legislative body.

He said Tuesday that worries it would lead to leaks of business information on pending deals between EU members and foreign oil and gas suppliers are unfounded because the proposed law would include strict safeguards.

"I believe the concern is about confidentiality -- that company secrets will start floating around Europe," Karins said. "It's of the utmost importance that this legislation does not allow that to happen."

Under the proposal unveiled by EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger in September, the Brussels leadership would have to be notified of any energy sector deal information "before and after" negotiations with third countries.

If the deals weren't deemed in the best interests of the EU as a whole or are insufficiently transparent, the commission could sue member states to change the terms.

The goal, Oettinger said, is 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.

The measure would have to be approved by governments of the member states and the European Parliament to become law. The European Parliament's Energy Committee is expected to vote on the proposal Feb. 28.

Critics have attacked it saying Brussels has no place the table when member countries are striking energy deals. Besides feelings it infringes on national sovereignty, they also worry that jealously guarded business secrets are revealed during such negotiations.

Karins said the European Parliament legislation addresses those concerns.

"My report specifically states that if a government indicates that certain information is confidential then the commission respects that confidentiality and does not distribute it to other member states," he said. "It's a safeguard."

The problem with some energy deals between EU and non-EU members is they don't comport with the European laws, Karins said.

"The goal is to prevent infringement procedures before they start and make sure that an agreement complies with EU law from the very beginning," he said. "The ironic thing is that if the legislation isn't passed the commission would be looking at agreements anyway, and if it encountered anything which was contrary to EU law, infringement procedures would be started.

"This legislation is an important cog in the system that would help to avoid a (legal) mess."

One example of such a "legal mess" was a 2010 agreement between Poland and Russia, in which the EU sought to ensure access to the Polish section of the Yamal natural gas pipeline (partly owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom) for other operators.

The commission contested that deal as a violation of EU law. It demanded the pipeline operator, Gaz-System, award transmission contracts on a "non-discriminatory basis" and that Poland be allowed to re-export Russian gas delivered in Poland.

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