Opposition to South Stream: “All Political”
At the Gas Dialogues event Development and Use of Natural Gas in the Danube Region: Prospects and Opportunities, which took place in Budapest, Hungary, former member of the Bulgarian parliament and chairman of the Energy Committee, Mr. Yavor Kuiumdijev, Bulgarian Socialist Party, spoke about what he saw as the critical risk issues in the security of gas deliveries for Bulgaria, as well as the country's perspective for participating in the South Stream project.
He explained that in the previous parliamentary session Bulgaria had introduced legislation concerning South Stream, specifically its maritime section. “The European Commission had very strong opposition towards those,” he said. “To our understanding, we have been in full compliance with existing European rules and directives.”
The proof of that contention, said Mr. Kuiumdijev, was a meeting with energy specialists from the European Commission in the Bulgarian parliament, where parliamentarians asked EC officials to indicate exactly which pieces of European legislation Bulgaria were in violation with its own, in order to work together to avoid any misunderstandings.
“There was no answer,” he recounted, “because there is no single violation – all of this is political.”
If it were all about business, he contended, South Stream would have already been built.
He pointed out that 90% of Bulgaria's gas supply was from the Russian Federation, namely Gazprom, through one single pipeline.
“We have experienced very significant problems in 2009, when the last Ukrainian crisis occurred,” he recalled, “which stopped deliveries for 2 weeks to the whole Bulgarian economy. It led to a severe losses of around EUR 250 million, which had to be paid by the state itself, mainly because of the need to replace these deliveries from other sources.”
He explained that the district heating companies had to move to other primary sources of energy like coal or oil. “In the second phase of the crisis, deliveries from Greece were to a certain extent much more expensive than the gas delivered by Gazprom.”
Such experiences, he said, meant that it was crucial to use care in addressing such critical issues when keeping in mind the interests of the Bulgarian population and business.
Mr. Kuiumdijev stated, “We have been a very loyal member of the European Union for 7 years and of NATO for 10 years, but by doing so we are getting the wrong end of the stick.”
He recalled that when the war in the former Yugoslavia started, Bulgaria lost billions of euros, mainly due to transport problems, and the loss of markets. Later, as part of the European Union, Bulgaria was obliged to shut down small nuclear reactors (which could have run for 1-2 decades more) at its only nuclear power plant, according to him, even though they were similar to others in the region. Joining the international coalition against Saddam Hussein in Iraq also produced losses for the country; Iraq owed the country a huge debt that was never paid.
“And now, we are facing something similar, due to the crisis in Ukraine, which is not our crisis,” said Mr. Kuiumdijev. “We are not a part of it, and I'm not just speaking about Bulgarians; I think most Europeans don't perceive the problems in Ukraine as their own problem – we are not a side in that conflict.”
Nor was it good to be on the losing side all the time, he offered.
“It's extremely difficult to explain to Bulgarian citizens why they should have black-outs during the winter, why there won't be any heating – because someone is enforcing democracy in Ukraine.”
This was not the first time Europe had seen this in the last 20 years, he said, and Bulgaria couldn't afford it any more. While admitting that this was not the reason that nearly 60% of the Bulgarian population was on the verge of energy poverty, Mr. Kuiumdijev said that even the prospect of raising prices by 1% was a reason for despair.
A sense of solidarity was needed, he said, so that the European Commission would finally realize that there were European citizens in the East which were dependent upon deliveries of gas from Russia, meaning that South Stream must be supported by all means necessary, but also by being in compliance with European rules and regulations.
“I strongly believe that as a community of free nations where the law has the highest priority, where the interests of the European citizens are the highest priorities for all, this project will happen the way it's planned because it serves not only Bulgaria, but serves the whole European Union,” he concluded.
In response to a query regarding whether, based upon past experiences, gas flows should today be monitored between Ukraine and Russia, Mr. Kuiumdijev said it was anyone's guess what would happen in Ukraine in the next couple of weeks or months. “Tomorrow, the gas may stop; it may never stop. In the short-term there is no action we can take.
“We're spending too much time arguing about whether to build South Stream or not and, instead of really working on constructing it, we've been losing time.”
Five years after the 2009 gas crisis, he said, Europe was still arguing, and if the present crisis didn't stop flows of gas, the next one might.
Drew Leifheit is Natural Gas Europe's new media specialist.