Bulgaria’s outgoing economy minister Dragomir Stoynev said on August 1 that the controversial decision to sell state land to the South Stream project company was predicated on the assumption that the European Commission would approve the construction of the gas pipeline.
Bulgaria’s Agriculture Ministry sold, last week, 35.86 hectares of state forest lands to South Stream Bulgaria, the company that will build and operate the Bulgarian stretch of the pipeline, for 20.6 million leva.
The deal was not made public, but was leaked and reported by Bulgarian media this week, prompting accusations from critics of the outgoing Plamen Oresharski administration that the government was nudging the project on despite its official stance of halting work on the pipeline.
Bulgaria said it froze work on South Stream following criticism from the European Commission that South Stream breached the regulations of the Third energy package regulations, which ban gas trading companies – like Russia’s Gazprom – from owning and operating pipelines. Russia, which is heavily promoting South Stream as an alternative transit route to Ukraine, disputes the EU’s right to impose such regulations, arguing that intergovernmental agreements superseded EU law, and has lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organisation.
Stoynev, who has been among the most ardent supporters of South Stream in recent months, told Bulgarian National Television that no new contracts have been signed on South Stream since Oresharski announced that the project was being suspended on June 8.
Asked about the land sale, Stoynev said that “we must be prepared, once the European Commission gives its approval, to start work.” If the EC planned to stop the pipeline’s construction altogether, it would have communicated that to the other EU member states involved in the project – Austria, Italy, Hungary and Slovenia – but the Commission has not done so, Stoynev said.
“We are awaiting the European Commission’s statement to start the construction on this project. It is no secret that there are 65 000 tonnes of pipes in Bourgas,” he said.
(Photo of South Stream ceremonial first welding in Bulgaria: gazprom.ru)