European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on December 4 that the EU will stand with Bulgaria on the issue of South Stream and would not allow “Bulgaria to be blackmailed”.
Juncker’s comments came after a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov in Brussels, which had been scheduled well in advance and was meant to focus on unfreezing EU funds for the country.
However, earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow would shelve the plans to build the South Stream pipeline – due to cross the Black Sea and then make landfall in Bulgaria on its way to Central Europe – which caused some consternation in Bulgaria, as Putin blamed Bulgaria for the project’s failure.
Juncker said that EC’s requirements for South Stream had not changed, namely that Russia should bring the project in line with EU energy regulations. He said that the EC and Bulgaria will work together on solving the existing issues, but “the ball is in Russia’s court”.
“We want energy to flow to Bulgaria and to the whole of Europe and we will not accept any blackmailing on energy matters. Bulgaria is not a small country, it has the whole of Europe behind it,” he said.
Borissov said that Bulgaria has constantly backed the proposed pipeline, provided that it adhered to EU law. “If Russia accepts [the provisions of] the Third energy package, we are ready to begin construction today, so it is not just Bulgaria’s fault,” he said.
The Third energy package bans gas traders, such as Russia’s Gazprom, from owning pipeline facilities and requires operators to make half of a pipeline’s capacity available to third-party suppliers. Moscow claims that these regulations are targeted at Gazprom and has refused to accept the terms, filing an arbitration complaint with the World Trade Organisation on this issue.
Asked whether Bulgaria was prepared to support more sanctions against Russia, Borissov said that the EU had to acknowledge the difficult position that Bulgaria in, as the EU state affected the worst by the sanctions, but said that Sofia would continue to support sanctions.
(For more coverage on the South Stream and the announcement of its cancellation, click here. Photo of Juncker and Borissov speaking to the media on December 4 2014: EC Audiovisual Service.)