ICIS view: Polish experts urge the EU to hold Gazprom to account

06 April 2017 07:17 Source:ICIS

Poland’s overt dissatisfaction with the recent proposals by Russian producer Gazprom to the European Commission to end the ongoing antitrust case isn’t particularly surprising.

Poland has been adamant in its push to cut Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.

The fact that the view is shared and openly expressed across a wide spectrum of commentators - including state-owned firms, politicians and analysts - reflects a strong sense of solidarity.

Flick, or rather surf, through Poland’s industry publications and national papers, and all opinions on Gazprom’s move express unanimous dissatisfaction.

Journalists call them a “facade” and experts describe them as a strategy by the Russian firm to pave the way to new pipeline projects and affirm its position as Europe’s main gas supplier in light of increasing LNG competition.

Despite the fact that some of Gazprom’s proposals could, in theory, give Poland more flexibility as well as increase gas supplies to Eastern Europe, the country’s key goal remains to challenge Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

As far as Poland is concerned, some of those proposals are simply insufficient and come too little, too late.

For example, Gazprom’s commitment to lift destination clauses and allow PGNiG to re-export Russian gas further to Eastern Europe, has been secured by PGNiG few years ago in separate dealings with the Russians.

Gazprom offered to allow its major buyers in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to undertake swaps with the four countries that are most isolated in terms of gas supply: Bulgaria and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

But Poland is expecting more advantages in business with Gazprom as a result of its arbitrage proceedings anyway. Relaxation of the take-or-pay requirement would be one of them.

One might say that Poland fails to recognise its own opportunities for growth in the CEE region – so strong is its focus on penalising Russia.

At the end of last year, Poland blocked EU’s decision to allow Gazprom more access to the OPAL pipeline. Poland argued that making OPAL, a key transit line in Europe, available to Gazprom constituted a breach of provisions on common rules for the internal market.

Last month PGNiG signed a side deal to double its LNG imports from Qatar from next year.

Poland is also intent on speeding up the plans to build a gas link to Norway and considers expanding its LNG terminal - despite the fact that the current regasification capacity is still only booked at 65%.

The government seems to be doing everything in its power to cut all ties with the Russian exporter after the current supply contract expires in 2022.

Typically for Poland - given its history of tortured relationship with Russia - all decisions are strongly driven by politics and show fierce determination to import anything but Russian gas, regardless of economic sense.

Poland was the only EU country that managed to avoid the global recession that started in 2008. Instead, the country’s economy has shown growth.

In order to sustain this positive trend, the Polish government should be able to provide constructive feedback in the ongoing consultations with the EU, rather than sticking to opposing all things Russian.

Let not ghosts of the past stay in the way of new opportunities. karolina.zagrodna@icis.com

By Karolina Zagrodna