EU Commission Reiterates Calls on Bulgaria to Stop South Stream
The European Commission outlined the two problems it sees in the construction of Bulgaria's South Stream pipeline section to explain why it demands that it be halted.
Issues of competition and public procurement are behind the EC's decision to launch an infringement procedure against Bulgaria over its South Stream section.
The first problem is that the company South Stream Bulgaria has been assigned the planning, financing, construction and management of the pipeline without any procedures enabling competition and transparency, as Chantal Hughes, the spokesperson for EU Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier, told the Bulgarian National Radio.
Another point of concern are agreements with subcontractors which give advantage to a certain Russian and Bulgarian companies.
Though not mentioning any specific names ringing alarm bells at the Commission, Hughes said that as far as she was concerned, "real construction activity" had not yet begun, thus hinting that it might still be easier to freeze the South Stream project.
"So yes, we demand from authorities in Bulgaria that they stop the project and expect that they take this into consideration," Hughes made it clear.
Her words come hours after it was announced on Monday that the EC had launched an infringement procedure against Bulgaria over its non-compliance with EU legislation. The way Sofia is handling the construction of the South Stream was cited as a reason.
The Ministry of Economy and Energy responded by saying it was still expecting an official letter from the EU Commission that would inform it of the procedure under way.
Economy Ministry officials confirmed they would meet the one-month deadline to provide an official reply to such letter.
However, claims of not having received any official notice contradict Hughes' earlier announcement that EC had already informed Bulgarian authorities of the "first stage" of an infringement procedure.
Hughes underscored back then that the EU Commission only insists that construction activities be frozen until the pipeline project meets EU legal requirements.
The South Stream gas pipeline project, which would pump gas from Russia into Southeast and Central Europe going around existing infrastructure in Ukraine, is to be completed by 2017. It is expected that the new pipeline will increase the EU's Russian gas consumption by one-fifth.
It has recently caused many discussions in Europe, as a number of countries are seeking ways to reduce the EU's dependence on Russian gas.
Bulgaria has maintained it is committed to the construction of South Stream.
Last week it was revealed that the company Stroytransgaz virtually owned by Gennady Timchenko, one of the richest Russians who is among those sanctioned by the US over the Ukraine crisis, is to build the Bulgarian stretch of the pipeline.
EU officials have also voiced criticism at the way the construction tender was conducted in end-2013, with little time for companies to place their bid.
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