Bulgaria will issue “all necessary permits” for the South Stream pipeline and will “continue preparatory work for the implementation of the project”, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said late on December 18 after the EU heads of government summit in Brussels.
Borissov said that he presented Bulgaria’s position on the issue to his fellow EU leaders, using the opportunity to blame his predecessor, Plamen Oresharski, for the ongoing infringement proceedings opened by the European Commission on suspicions that Sofia breach EU rules on public procurement in awarding the construction contract for the land section of the pipeline.
“As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said a few days ago, Bulgaria has to carry out the preparatory work, especially in the offshore stretch, so that there are no grounds for the Russian side to claim that the project is being stopped because of Bulgaria,” Borissov said after the European Council meeting, as quoted in a cabinet statement.
Prior to the meeting, Borissov said that he wanted to hear a straight answer from the EU leaders about Bulgaria’s future actions on the project. After the summit, Borissov said that he received full support for Bulgaria continuing preparatory work on South Stream, in line with the intergovernmental agreement it has with Russia, in order to preclude an arbitration lawsuit that Sofia might lose.
“If Gazprom still cancels the project, then it is their fault, not Bulgaria’s,” he was quoted as saying.
Since Russian president Vladimir Putin announced the cancellation of South Stream during a visit to Turkey on December 1, authorities in Sofia have not received any official communication from Moscow on the project. In that time, Russia confirmed the cancellation of the pipeline to the EC and Putin spoke with his counterparts in Serbia and Hungary – two other countries that were to play an important role in the project – but not in Bulgaria.
Earlier this week, Bulgaria’s Economy Minister Bozhidar Loukarski said that a team of officials could visit Moscow to discuss South Stream with Russian energy minister Alexander Novak. The plan was later aborted, with Novak scheduled to speak with Loukarski and Bulgarian Energy Minister Temenouzhka Petkova by phone later on December 19.
(Photo of ceremonial first welding on Bulgarian stretch of South Stream in October 2013 from gazprom.ru)