Pipeline Politics Schröder Takes Lobby Work to Brussels

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who now heads the supervisory board of a Gazprom subsidiary, is turning to Brussels for political help in clearing the way for a gas pipeline between Germany and Russia. Estonia is refusing to give the company permits to do surveying work in its waters.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is hoping to generate support for his controversial pipeline project at the European Commision.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is hoping to generate support for his controversial pipeline project at the European Commision.

A new round has begun in the dispute over the planned Baltic Sea pipeline from the Russian city of Vyborg to Greifswald in Germany. Following a refusal by Estonia to allow the gas pipeline to be laid in its waters, the chairman of Nord Stream's supervisory board, Gerhard Schröder, is lobbying for support in Brussels. The former German chancellor is arguing that Brussels should back the project because it will help to secure Europe's energy supplies and that doing so is "in Europe's interests."

At the end of this month, the pipeline's managers want to convince the European Commission of the value of their project in order to counter further opposition in the run-up to construction.

The Estonian government, though, is staunchly opposed to the project, and has rejected requests to allow Nord Stream to conduct a geological survey of the seabed within its territorial waters. "Our main position has always been that this pipeline in the Baltic Sea is not advisable at all," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told a public TV station in September, according to the news agency Bloomberg. "There have never been any disagreements about that. We will not allow the building of this pipeline in our economic zone."

A number of countries have voiced their concerns about the project because the Baltic Sea floor is full of munitions discharged there after World War II. Both Estonia and Sweden say it will also damage the environment.

Graphic: The pipeline route

Graphic: The pipeline route

And Poland and Ukraine have also expressed irritation at the project, which aims to help secure Germany's strategic energy needs, starting in 2010. They are upset that the pipeline's sea route will bypass their countries, denying them transit fees and potentially exposing them to greater Russian pressure over energy supplies. Both countries have been critical of the Kremlin in the past.

One option for Nord Stream would be to sue in an Estonian court, but with the planned start date for construction nearing, the company hopes to avoid that step. Russian and German steel factories have already been given contracts in the order of the three-digit millions to supply the steel pipes for the project. Contracts have also been negotiated for the special ships to be used to lay the undersea pipeline, with 2008 being given as a starting date for construction. And by the end of this year, the Gazprom subsidiary plans to present an environmental impact report on the €5 billion ($7 billion) project to the Baltic states affected by the pipeline.

Finland has said it would allow the pipeline to pass through its waters if Estonia doesn't change its stance. But the company believes the alternative route would cause greater damage to the Baltic seabed and to the environment.



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