The EU executive on Tuesday unveiled plans to vet energy contracts that members wanted to sign with nations outside the European Union.
The European Commission proposed changes to ensure it would be able to review such national agreements before the signing ceremony with a view to finding out whether the deals complied with EU rules. Right now, the Commission can only examine such contracts after they have been inked.
"What it means is that no country should sign an inter-governmental agreement until the Commission has given its opinion," EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told reporters in Brussels.
Such opinions would be compiled within 12 weeks and member states "would have to do [their] utmost" to take the Commission's views into consideration.
All eyes on Berlin
"As EU markets continue to integrate, decisions taken by one member state can have a negative impact on the security of supply in neighboring countries," Canete added, revealing the thrust of his plans.
EU states import about half of their annual energy needs. A third of their gas imports come from Russia alone and some newer eastern members are almost entirely reliant on their big neighbor.
Political observers said Canete's remarks were meant to be directed against Germany's plans for another pipeline to carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine.
The Nord Stream 2 project had triggered an outcry in Italy and elsewhere. Rome saw the planned pipeline as displaying a good deal of hypocrisy, insofar as Berlin should pursue a major deal with Russia, while the rest of the bloc was being asked to sacrifice interests to keep up sanctions against Moscow over its perceived role in the Ukraine conflict.
It's unclear yet how efficient Canete's new vetting plans might be. The Nord Stream 2 consortium has hastened to stress that its deal with Russia is only based on commercial cooperation between companies and does not hinge on any agreements between countries, that is between governments.
"Therefore there are no potential issues with EU law compliance of underlying intergovernmental agreements," the consortium told AFP news agency.
hg/uhe (dpa, AFP, EFE)