It’s a bit rich for Italy, of all nations, to complain that another European Union member state is prioritizing its own energy security over the bloc’s efforts to diversify away from Russia. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, is holding up a continuation of the bloc’s sanctions against Russia to make clear his irritation with Germany’s participation in a second Baltic Sea gas pipeline, called Nord Stream II.
Central and Eastern European countries earlier wrote the European Commission to point out that the planned pipeline bypasses Ukraine and hence building it would play right into Russia’s hands.
“Preserving the transport route through Ukraine is the strategic interest of the EU as a whole,” they argued, “not only from an energy security perspective, but also reinforcing the stability of the Eastern European region.”
Nord Stream II, which seeks to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline, makes little economic sense. Russia is believed to use just 60 percent of its existing pipeline capacity. The only reason for adding another connection is that it wants reduce its dependence on Ukraine, a former Soviet satellite state that transits half of Russia’s gas exports to Europe and has tilted to the West in recent years.
The EU sanctions on Russia were imposed after it seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and stirred up an insurrection in the country’s eastern borderlands, aggressions that followed Ukraine’s refusal to join a Russian-led customs union and signing of an association pact with the EU instead.
This summer, Anglo-Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV and Germany’s E.ON nevertheless agreed with the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom to extend the Nord Stream pipeline.
The German government, which says it wants to keep the embargo in place, argues that it cannot stop private companies.
But such concerns did not stop Europe from forcing Russia to abandon another non-Ukrainian pipeline last year. Russia canceled South Stream in December citing European opposition to the $40 billion project.
Hypocrisy all round
Italy’s Eni was a major investor in South Stream and Italy is Russia’s second-largest trading partner in the EU, after Germany. So it is no surprise that the country didn’t make an issue out of Nord Stream II until now when it had its own ties with Russia to consider.
Hypocritical though it may be, Renzi does have a point. As this website has argued, building Nord Stream II would contradict Europe’s stated aims of seeking alternative natural gas suppliers to Russia and stopping the country’s bullying of Ukraine. There is no justification for it.