Denmark refers Russian gas pipe issue to Brussels

Denmark will refer to the European Commission the thorny issue of Russia’s application for permission lay a gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

Denmark refers Russian gas pipe issue to Brussels
Parts of the pipe being delivered in Germany in March. Photo: Reuters/Scanpix

Denmark can make it more difficult for Russia to lay the Nord Stream gas pipe in the Baltic Sea, but cannot completely prevent it.

The government will now send Russia’s application for permission to lay the pipe to the European Commission in Brussels.

The opposition Social Democrats and Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) parties as well as the Danish People’s Party supported the move to refer the issue to the EU after the commission agreed to take on the task of responding to the Russian request, reports newspaper Politiken.

The government has also secured parliamentary support for a law change which would give Denmark more geopolitical and national security policy leeway should the case be returned.

But Denmark’s realistic chances of, it wishes to do so, blocking the construction of the Russian pipeline, which will run from the Russian city of Vyborg near the Finnish border through the Baltic Sea to Greifswald in Germany, are low, reports the newspaper.

“We can make life difficult for Russia, which would be a clear signal to send from a Danish point of view. But it will probably be difficult to prevent the gas pipe from coming,” Social Democrat foreign policy spokesperson Nick Hækkerup told Politiken.

Russia was granted permission to build the Nord Stream pipeline through the Baltic Sea in 2009, when its relations with the EU were significantly better.

Denmark’s government agreed at that time to allow the Russians to lay the pipeline through Danish territorial waters near the island of Bornholm.

An application to add a second pipeline alongside the first was submitted by the Russian government last week.

Concerns about the pipe have also surfaced in neighbouring Sweden, where regional government referred the issue of leasing a port for the construction of the pipe to the central government.

The pipeline, which would be 1,224 km long, would have the capacity to supply gas to 26 million European homes, reports Politiken.

More than half of Nord Stream is owned by the Russian state energy company Gazprom, with German, French and Dutch energy companies also holding shares.

Fears that the pipeline could be used be Russia to exert political pressure on the EU and Ukraine are part of the cause of tensions over its building.

“If Russia is supplying a large part of the EU with gas and problems arise then Russia can turn off the gas. That will cause price rises in Germany and increased discontent amongst German consumers that will have to pay, which can then affect the German government,” said Hækkerup.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is also opposed to the pipeline, since it stands to lose significant income on importing Russian gas should the pipeline allow this to be transported with going through Ukraine.

“It is relevant to take Ukraine into consideration,” said Hækkerup.

With stances towards the pipeline varying between EU countries, the Danish government secured parliamentary support for allowing the EU commission to take on the issue, reports Politiken.

The law change put forward by the government would allow Denmark to refuse the gas pipe being built in its waters on security-related or geopolitical grounds.

Under current law, only environmental concerns can form the basis for such a refusal.

This gives Denmark greater leeway should the EU be unsuccessful in resolving the issue.

The law change is yet to by passed by parliament but has been tabled and given broad support, according to Politiken.

But even in the event of a Danish ‘no’ to the pipeline, Russia would be able to divert the pipeline through international waters.

“A Danish ‘no’ would probably not be a stopper, but would send a clear political signal,” said Hækkerup.

Placing the pipe through international waters would, in fact, be worse for the environment, according to Politiken – further muddying the issue for the government.

In fact, construction of the pipeline near Bornholm may even be a boon for local business on the Baltic Sea island.