ISTANBUL - The Nabucco gas pipeline has been demoted from a list of projects to be financed by a 5 billion-euro European Union stimulus plan after a meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers Monday, Euractiv reported yesterday.
The move was apparently made at the request of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted that no public money should be spent on a project in which Berlin has little interest, despite the fact that German RWE is also in the Nabucco consortium. On the other hand former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, is the chairman of the Nord Stream Shareholders, a rival pipeline to link Russia and the European Union via the Baltic Sea.
Under a revised version of the plan, Nabucco has been diluted under a wider common heading, the "Southern gas corridor," which also includes an offshore pipeline called ITGI to be built between the Greek Ionian coast and Italy, and other projects in the Southern region.
Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra said the ministers failed to agree on the stimulus plan, as "some member states want to look at the package again" ahead of the EU summit March 19 and 20. However, he said a "strong group of countries want Nabucco to be part of a set of projects."
"I told the group of countries that we still support Nabucco," Vondra said, hinting that the union was now divided along the lines of those supporting the pipeline and those who doubt its merits. During the ministerial meeting, Romania, an important transit country for Nabucco, was reported to be very critical of the project's deletion from the list.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently confirmed her country's opposition to funding the Nabucco project with European money, stressing that the problem is not financing but finding gas to feed the pipeline.
An initial draft earmarked 250 million euros for the establishment of a risk-sharing facility for Nabucco, intended to help secure loans from banks at better conditions than those offered on the market. A second version of the plan cut this amount to 200 million euros. But the latest version now appears to have weakened Nabucco even more, diplomats said.
For its part, the European Commission insists that Nabucco can still receive funding under the revised plan. "The fact that we have changed the name doesn't mean that Nabucco has disappeared. It's there with another name," Commission spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas Espuny told EurActiv.
Tarradellas also made it clear that the Southern corridor project does not include South Stream, a Gazprom-favored alternative to Nabucco, which would bring Russian gas under the Black Sea via Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia and Croatia to Italy. A branch of the South Stream pipeline will run through Serbia and Hungary to Austria, ending at the Baumgarten gas storage facility, the same plant that Nabucco plans to use.
The lack of consensus at ministerial level over the stimulus package hardly comes as a surprise, as diplomats revealed to EurActiv that Angela Merkel had indicated she wanted the issue to be decided at the EU summit this week. But the looming battle appears to be a tough one and the decision, to be adopted by qualified majority vote, uncertain.
The European Parliament will also decide on the stimulus package before the end of its mandate. "If no agreement is reached, everybody's credibility will be put into question. Nobody can afford that," Vondra said.