Bulgaria can play key role in EU gas distribution – Foreign Minister

Bulgaria can play key role in EU gas distribution – Foreign Minister

Sofia, March 18, 2015/ Independent Balkan News Agency

By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister has re-affirmed Sofia’s goal to play a bigger role in the European energy sector, despite the cancellation of South Stream, the Russian gas pipeline that would have crossed Bulgaria on its way to other EU markets.

At a meeting with Bulgarian MEPs, Mitov said that the EU had an interest in Bulgaria’s proposal to build a gas hub – a plan put forth last year by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov after Russia scrapped the 63 billion cubic metres South Stream, claiming the European Commission was throwing obstacles in the pipeline’s way.

Under Borissov’s plan, Russia would build the underwater stretch of the pipeline and sell the gas from the hub in Bulgaria, although Moscow has shown no interest in this proposal, focusing instead on redirecting the route of the pipeline to Turkey and renaming the project Turkish Stream.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, in announcing the cancellation of South Stream in Ankara on December 1 2014, blamed Bulgaria for delays in the issuing of necessary permits for the pipeline. Bulgarian officials reacted strongly to the accusations, saying that Sofia was only following procedures and could not be held responsible.

In his meeting with MEPs, Mitov re-iterated the government’s stance that Bulgaria should not be punished for following EU rules and emphasised that it was not up to Russia alone to decide the route along which gas would flow into the EU, rather it should be an issue discussed with the EU.

Sofia was continuing work on issuing the necessary permits for South Stream and awaited Russia to meet its commitments as well. “If this project has been halted at all, it was for political reasons – there has been no formal stoppage and the intergovernmental agreement has not been denounced. Bulgaria continues issuing the necessary permits and the company continues to work,” Mitov said, as quoted by Bulgarian National Radio.

Moscow has been unable to rush through preparations for the re-routed pipeline, despite a flurry of meetings between Russian and Turkish officials in recent months, which have resulted in a 10 per cent discount in the price of Russian gas for Turkey, the second-largest foreign gas market for Russia’s state-owned gas company Gazprom.

Instead, Turkey has moved forward with construction of the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), which started on March 17. The proposed pipeline would pump gas from the Shah Deniz field in Azerbaijan, with Turkey buying six billion cubic metres of gas and 10 billion cubic metres shipped to Europe.

Ankara owns 30 per cent in the project, with Azeri state-owned Socar holding 68 per cent and British Petroleum the remaining 12 per cent.

Bulgaria is one of the countries that will buy gas shipped through TANAP, having signed an agreement for one billion cubic metres a year. The pipeline will link to the planned Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) shipping most of the gas for Europe into Italy, which also gave Bulgaria the opportunity to play a bigger role in gas transportation.

TANAP and TAP are part of the EU’s plans to build a “southern gas corridor” shipping Caspian Sea and Central Asian gas into Europe. Other gas projects in the area were still far from entering the construction stage, but Mitov said that should the “southern gas corridor” pass through Greece, as it is currently planned, the gas currently being shipped through Turkey to the EU will have to be re-directed and Bulgaria was the obvious choice in such a scenario.