Italy’s Renzi Stabs Central Europeans in the Back

The Italian leader’s stand against a Russian natural gas pipeline turns out to be entirely self-serving.

Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands talk during a European Council meeting in Brussels, November 29, 2015
Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands talk during a European Council meeting in Brussels, November 29, 2015 (Palazzo Chigi)

This website sort of praised Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, last month when he accused Germany and the Netherlands of hypocrisy for supporting EU sanctions against Russia while still going ahead with the extension of a Baltic Sea pipeline that bypasses Central Europe.

We argued that it was a bit rich for Renzi, of all people, to complain, given that his country continued to support another proposed Russian gas pipeline, South Stream, after Russia had invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula away from Ukraine.

But he did have a point. The European Union imposed an embargo to dissuade further Russian aggression in Central and Eastern Europe yet two of the bloc’s richest member states are committed to building a pipeline that leaves those same nations in the cold.

Bypassing Ukraine

The proposed project, Nord Stream 2, would double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline.

It makes no economic sense. Russia uses perhaps 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.

Countries in the Baltics and Central Europe have argued against Nord Stream 2, writing the European Commission that they believe “preserving the transport route through Ukraine is [in] the strategic interest of the EU as a whole.”

Perfidy

But if we thought Renzi agreed and was standing on principle — if only once South Stream was canceled — we clearly underestimated the Italian’s perfidy.

Milan’s Corriere della Sera reports that since he complained in December, Renzi’s government has been hard at work trying to get Italy in on the Nord Stream deal!

Renzi himself apparently spoke about the project with Russia’s Vladimir Putin by phone. The Kremlin put out a statement saying they agreed on the importance of cooperation “for the purpose of implementing mutually beneficial energy projects.”

The two countries’ foreign ministers also met in Rome.

Renzi took great pride in lecturing the Dutch and the Germans in December, boasting that every other leader present at a European Council meeting supported him.

If Corriere della Sera‘s reporting is correct, it was all show and the prime minister only wanted to make sure his country’s energy company, Eni, got a slice of the Russian cake.

Central Europeans will have to look for friends elsewhere.

Comments

  • What part of “exports to Europe up 8% over last year, on falling European production” do you not get?

    http://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/gazprom-says-russian-gas-exports-to-europe-up-8-pct-in-2015/

    Nord Stream II will replace Ukraine’s volumes, not supplement them. The reason Europe is using less gas is because its domestic production is collapsing. They will need every bit of capacity and more than the current lines of Nord Stream can handle. I hope you won’t ask why Russia can’t just keep on using Ukraine as a transit country – Ukraine is the west’s problem now, and Russia does not want to be on the hook for the costs of repairs after Washington and Brussels wrecked it, as it would be to some degree if it had to use it as a transit country. Also, its pipeline network is about to collapse and it is not worth repairing unless it is carrying a minimum of 60 BCm. Come on, you know how economics works.

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