Macron Opens Door in Corsica, Rutte Pours Cold War in Sofia

French president Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 6, 2017
French president Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, July 6, 2017 (World Bank/Ibrahim Ajaja)

French president Emmanuel Macron has told Corsicans he will try to meet their demands for more autonomy while keeping the island in the “republican fold”.

Ainslie Noble has argued that will be difficult, though:

  1. The French Constitution seems to rule out equal status for the Corsican language.
  2. Barring foreigners from buying Corsican estates is impossible under EU law.
  3. Amnesty for violent separatists may be a bridge too far.

Nationalists won a majority of the seats in Corsica’s regional council in December. Given the island’s economic dependence on metropolitan France, a Catalonia-style rebellion is nevertheless unlikely. Read more “Macron Opens Door in Corsica, Rutte Pours Cold War in Sofia”

Likely Future Premier: Bulgaria Could Pull Out of South Stream

Bulgaria’s likely next prime minister said on Wednesday the country will push ahead with a Russian gas pipeline only if it complies with European Union laws, signaling a more defiant posture than the outgoing Socialists.

The conservative Boyko Borisov, who was prime minister between 2009 and 2013, also told the Reuters news agency he would scrap a tender awarded to a consortium led by the Russian construction company Stroytransgaz for the Bulgarian leg of the South Stream pipeline. The firm’s owner is on a list of Western sanctions targets imposed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March.

Borisov is expected to return to power after the ruling Socialist Party performed poorly in May’s European Parliament elections. Read more “Likely Future Premier: Bulgaria Could Pull Out of South Stream”

Bulgaria Suspends Involvement in Russia’s South Stream Pipeline

Bulgaria is suspending work on a Russian pipeline that is supposed to connect its gasfields with a hub in Austria, the Balkan country’s prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, announced on Sunday.

“We have received a request from the European Commission, after which I ordered to suspend the works. Further actions will be clear after additional consultations with Brussels,” he said after a meeting with American legislators.

Russia has yet to receive an official notification, officials told its ITAR-TASS news agency. The issue could be raised at a meeting between European, Ukrainian and Russian officials due to be held in Brussels on Monday. Read more “Bulgaria Suspends Involvement in Russia’s South Stream Pipeline”

Bulgaria’s Right Wins Election Amid Scandals, Unemployment

Former Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov’s conservative party won Sunday’s election, partial results showed, but might not be able to form a majority government as the Socialists expanded their share of the vote from 18 to 26 percent.

Far-right nationalists, who backed Borisov’s previous government, said on Monday that they would not join a right-wing coalition while the Socialists seek support from a liberal ethnic Turkish party to form a government instead. Read more “Bulgaria’s Right Wins Election Amid Scandals, Unemployment”

European Southern Gas Corridor Shifts Focus

The purpose of Europe’s Southern Gas Corridor was previously clear — to get Azerbaijani, Iraqi and Turkmen gas to Western Europe where demand is soaring and countries want to decrease their dependence on Russian gas imports. But increasingly, the energy security of Southeastern Europe is a factor to be reckoned with.

European energy commissioner Günther Oettinger, addressing a gas forum in Brussels last week, hailed the prospective Trans Adriatic Pipeline which is supposed to deliver gas from the Greek-Turkish border to Italy. “TAP’s plan, in order to work, will however require that someone else proves trustworthy in delivering the Azerbaijani gas to the Greek-Turkish border,” he pointed out.

There are different contenders. The Nabucco pipeline, financed by a consortium of Central European and Turkish energy companies, is perhaps the most viable option for transporting gas from Turkey to Austria, across Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

The Trans Caspian Pipeline is supposed to circumvent Iran and Russia in delivering gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, enabling Europe to buy gas cheaply from the Caspian region where Total, in September, made a huge gas discovery. The state oil company of Azerbaijan reported at the time that the newly discovered field could contain up to 350 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 45 million metric tons of gas condensate.

The Shah Deniz gasfield, still the largest natural gasfield off the coast of Azerbaijan, produces some seven billion cubic meters of natural gas per day and is estimated to contain the equivalent of 3,000 million barrels of oil.

Nabucco would traverse Southeastern Europe but the commission is worried that the region could still be left in the cold. “Without a leader developing new infrastructure in the region, I’m afraid Southeast Europe will not benefit from new gas coming to the region,” said Oettinger. He reminded his listeners of the infamous Russian-Ukrainian gas disputes of 2009. “Diversified gas supplies also will make gas a more attractive source of energy,” added Oettinger, encouraging countries to move away “from old and dirty installations for electricity generation or domestic heating.”

The commissioner promised that Brussels will help energy providers if they agreed to invest in Southeastern European energy security. “We will do this through our continued focus on strict application of EU Internal Energy Market legislation in these countries and generous regulatory support.”

Existing intergovernmental agreements allow Azerbaijani gas to be delivered to Turkey’s borders with the European Union — i.e., Bulgaria and Greece. Azerbaijan now has to decide whether to go for the Nabucco route and focus on the core European market or do business with companies that deliver gas to Southeastern Europe — which seems to be the preference of the European Commission — from whence it could be transported to other European countries through the internal market.

Bulgarian, Romanian Workers Still Not Welcome

The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday green lighted the entry of Bulgaria and Romania to the union’s border-free Schengen Area. Yet as many as ten Western European member states will keep their borders closed for Bulgarian and Romanian workers until 2014.

All countries that belong to the European Union are required to implement the Schengen Agreement which eliminated border patrols and custom checks between member states in 1999. Ireland and the United Kingdom are exempt as are the overseas territories of Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, although not part of the EU, do belong to the Schengen Area.

Bulgaria and Romania, which both joined the European Union in 2007, have met the necessary conditions for entry. Key to their ascension is their ability to protect Europe’s outer borders. The European Parliament will vote in plenary session on the matter next June after which government leaders are supposed to finalize the agreement unanimously. Read more “Bulgarian, Romanian Workers Still Not Welcome”