EU leaders say major Russia-Germany natural gas pipeline project appears to break EU rules

BRUSSELS – European Union leaders raised objections on Friday to a massive new pipeline project that would pump natural gas directly from Russia to Germany, claiming that the scheme would break EU laws.

The Nord Stream 2 project would expand the current Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea which directly links Germany to natural gas reserves in Siberia.

The pipeline bypasses both Ukraine and Slovakia, which are traditional transit countries for supplies pumped by Russian energy giant Gazprom, depriving them of substantial transit fees.

But some EU leaders, at a summit in Brussels, said that Nord Stream 2 would do nothing to reduce Europe’s dependency on Russian gas.

Russia provides for most of Europe’s natural gas needs, and price wars between Russia and Ukraine have interrupted supplies in the EU in the past.

“Nord Stream does not help diversification, nor would it reduce our energy dependence,” European Council President Donald Tusk said, after chairing the meeting.

Tusk said the leaders decided that any new energy infrastructure must help reduce energy dependency and diversify suppliers.

“All projects have to comply with all EU laws. This is a clear condition for receiving support from the EU institutions or any member state, be it legal, political or financial,” he said.

But Tusk said the EU’s executive Commission must still conduct a legal and technical analysis to establish officially whether the Nord Stream 2 project would contravene any laws.

The project has particularly angered Italian Premier Matteo Renzi, a year after Russia spiked the multibillion dollar South Stream project for southern Europe amid spiraling tensions over Ukraine.

“I think it’s incredible to stop South Stream just one year ago and then accept today the Nord Stream,” he told reporters, noting that Nord Stream 2 was one of a few issues on which he did not see eye-to-eye with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel, for her part, denied that politics were playing a role in her government’s decision to develop the project or that Germany was only considering national interests by doing this deal with Russia.

“I have made it clear to all that this is primarily an economic project. There are private investors for this project,” she said.