Stavros Dimas Member of the European Commission, responsible for environmentEnvironmental Aspects of the “Nordstream Pipeline” Hearing on “Nordstream” by the Committee of Petitions, in association with the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee o

20 octobre 2021 Pierre Perrin-Monlouis

Stavros Dimas Member of the European Commission, responsible for environmentEnvironmental Aspects of the “Nordstream Pipeline” Hearing on “Nordstream” by the Committee of Petitions, in association with the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy of the European Parliament, Brussels.Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Hearing on “Nordstream” by the Committee of Petitions, in association with the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy of the European Parliament, Brussels.
Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Chairman, dear Members of the European Parliament, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I very much welcome your initiative to organise a hearing on the “Nordstream” project for which there has been already some discussion both in the European Parliament and elsewhere. This important and unique up to now energy project has attracted a lot of media and political attention across the Baltic region over the past months. It has been discussed in a number of fora. I hope that today’s hearing will contribute to clarifying some of the environmental issues which have been raised in the context of the project. My presence today is in my capacity as Commissioner for the Environment and therefore I will not address issues other than environmental ones that the project could raise. My key message and concern is that the project should comply with all relevant environmental rules of international and EC law, during the stages of its construction, operation and monitoring. Of course the prime responsibility is with the Member States that have to ensure compliance with all the aforementioned laws.

As you know, the “Nordstream” project consists of constructing an offshore gas pipeline from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. All the 9 countries around the Baltic Sea are therefore concerned, and, in particular, Russia and Germany. The pipeline is also of specific interest to Finland, Sweden, and Denmark, due to the planned route of the pipeline within their respective exclusive economic zones. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are affected as neighbouring countries in the area.

This is an important project, not only because of its size and nature -1200 kilometres of pipe line under the sea in a sensitive area surrounded by 9 countries – but also because it is likely to be the first of many similar projects to come forward in the near future across our continent to satisfy the energy needs of the European Union.

This project is included in the guidelines on the Trans-European Energy Networks as a priority project. You will find it there as “North European gas pipeline” while it is now commonly referred to as the “Nordstream” from the name of the developer.

Thus, the political background is already agreed, as the above guidelines were approved by the European Parliament and the Council. Therefore the need to proceed quickly with these projects to ensure energy security has been already recognised. My colleague Commissioner Piebalgs will say more on the energy dimension. I will therefore limit myself to the environmental aspects.

I repeat however that in all cases, requirements under EC policy and law have to be respected, including environment, energy and maritime policy issues.

It is normal that in the case of technically complex infrastructure projects like the “Nordstream” project, many practical questions arise and many concerns are expressed: one of the most frequent is the environment. Any project of this type and size needs to be carefully assessed so that all advantages and disadvantages with respect to environment are well understood, so that the right decisions can be taken with respect to its technical aspects, its final alignment to be chosen, the introduction of specific measures to avoid or prevent environmental risks and damage, eventual remedial or mitigating measures, and so on. All these aspects must be considered before, and I emphasise the word before, the final decision for carrying out a specific project is taken. The most appropriate instrument is the ESPOO Convention that became part of the Community acquis following its ratification by the EC. It addresses transboundary impacts and foresees an assessment procedure as the one foreseen by the EIA Directive.

The guidelines for Trans-European energy networks already indicate that no decision on the carrying out of the listed projects will be taken without taking into consideration the results of an EIA where required.

Therefore, the guidelines themselves set the legal framework and the legal obligations with respect to environmental impact assessment. In addition, I would like to note that according to the rulings of the European Court of Justice, Community law also applies outside the territory of the Member States, wherever they exercise their jurisdiction. This means that within exclusive economic zones, both during the construction of the project as well as during its operational functioning, all obligations under EC law, such as nature protection obligations, protection of marine environment and so on, have to be respected [in addition to the respect of the basic principles of economic activity within the areas under the jurisdiction of the Member States like the principle of freedom of investment and the principle of non-discrimination.]

The “Nordstream” project is indeed subject to an EIA under the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context in the frame of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, better known as Espoo Convention, after the city in Finland where it was signed in 1991. The Espoo Convention sets out the obligations of the Contracting Parties to assess the environmental impact of certain activities, like the project in question, at an early stage of planning. It also lays down the general obligation of States (EU and non-EU) to notify and consult each other on all major projects that are likely to have significant adverse environmental impact across borders. The Community has ratified the Espoo Convention and provides in its internal legislation – namely the EIA Directive- for a sound legal framework to assess environmental impact of projects which are likely to have transboundary effects among Member States.

Among the countries concerned only Russia is not a full “Contracting Party” of the ESPOO Convention as it has signed the Convention but not ratified it. Russia has however agreed to fully respect the procedure and abide by the ESPOO convention rules in this case.

This EIA process under the ESPOO Convention and EIA Directive is linked to the authorisation of the project or to the permitting process. It is therefore the responsibility of the Member States to grant or refuse permission under their respective jurisdictions. However, this must be done in a way that fully respects the rules of the Espoo Convention and Member States shall also take into account all other obligations resulting from EC legislation.

In the case of EC co-funded major infrastructure projects the Commission verifies systematically the application of the EC acquis through appropriate administrative procedures. In the case of the “Nordstream” project which is not EC co-funded, it has been suggested by several parties that the Commission should play a more active role with respect to the environmental impact assessment. Let me be very clear on this point. The Commission cannot participate actively in such a specific assessment. The assessments are to be carried out by each country concerned under the ESPOO Convention and the relevant EIA rules and procedures applicable to them. Of course contacts and coordination should be ensured between the assessments of the countries of origin and the affected countries. It is not the responsibility of the Commission to carry out or participate in environmental impact assessments. The Commission has the institutional role to ensure that obligations from the EU legislation, as well as international agreements ratified by the Community, are fully respected by its Member States. And this is exactly what the Commission services are doing.

Ever since the issue was brought up to the Commission’s attention through petitions and question in the European Parliament, the Commission has had the opportunity in a proactive manner to discuss the matter with many parties concerned, including Member States and the project developer. The Commission is also informed through the workings of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (so-called HELCOM), the forum that recently agreed on a Baltic Sea Action Plan to restore the marine environment of the Baltic Sea to good environmental status.

It is our understanding that the whole EIA process under the ESPOO Convention is still ongoing. There have been many meetings and consultations between the different parties concerned, including the competent public authorities, the general public and the NGOs, as well as with the developer and his consultants. I am told that there have been at least 25 public hearings and 100 authorities administrative and technical meetings to discuss technical issues related to the environment in the frame of the Espoo EIA process. Therefore in terms of procedure there seems to be great transparency. I was very pleased to see for example that on 18th June 2007, a public discussion was organised jointly by the Finnish-Russian Citizen’s forum, the EU-Russia Center, WWF, the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament and, the Green Parliamentary Group. This forum took place in the Parliament of Finland and Honourable Members of the EP such as MEP Satu Hassi also participated.

On the other hand it needs to be noted that the developer has carried out numerous technical studies ranging from how to avoid old munitions dumps and chemical agents from the Second World War left at the bottom of the Baltic Sea to how to safely use chemicals to avoid the corrosion of the pipeline itself. The Commission services have also indicated to both the promoter and the Member States the need to carry out all the necessary studies with respect to environmental protection and nature protection in particular.

Let me at this point clarify that nature protection is an extremely important issue for which there exist specific obligations for EU Member States. These obligations stem from the “Birds” and the “Habitats” Directives two important nature protection directives. It is quite clear that authorisation for carrying out any infrastructure project – let alone such a complex one such as the “Nordstream” project – can only be granted only if the requirements of these two Directives are met and there is a guarantee that there is no deterioration of protected sites.

I know that concerns over the issue of nature protection have been already voiced on several occasions. I want to assure you that we will be very careful on this issue. As I have already stressed we have already been proactive in raising this matter in the information meetings with the Member States as well with the developer I mentioned above.

Let me conclude by saying that there is no doubt that this is a complex and difficult project. A coordinated procedure of environmental impact assessments is being carried out under international law and EC law, with all countries concerned, actively participating or associated in the process. The technical questions including the questions relating to the environment are many and important. This is why the co-operation of all the parties concerned is crucial and in particular of the competent authorities in all participating countries who will be called to give their assessment in an objective and sound way. The role of Environmental authorities and Environmental NGOs is also very crucial in that context. This is the first such case where a project involves at the same time many countries in the territory of which the project is carried out (“Parties of origin” according to the terminology of the ESPOO Convention) and many others that are affected (“affected Parties” according to the terminology of the ESPOO Convention).

It is particularly important that in such a case relevant Community legislation, especially that concerning impact assessment and nature protection is properly applied by Member States. The Commission trusts that Member States will fully respect these obligations which they have under Community law. As Commissioner for the Environment, I count very much on such a co-operation, as it will guarantee the success of the final authorisation decision whichever this will be. The Commission does not have the means and the responsibility to carry out environmental assessments and impact studies concerning infrastructure projects on the territory of Member States. The role of the Commission, as stated in the Treaty, is to ensure that all rules of EC law, including international agreements which the Community ratified, are correctly applied and fully respected by the Member States. It can only intervene if there are solid grounds to believe that there have been failures in meeting the relevant legal obligations with respect to EC Law, including EU environmental law. I can assure you that the Commission will not hesitate to intervene should it be required.

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