Smith Wary On EU Gas Stocks Vote

21 September 2010
Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish former member of the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Industry Committee, has expressed his reservations at the Parliament's vote on the new security of gas supply regulation, voting against the final compromise on the grounds that it needs more work.

The regulation as approved will require Member States to draw up action plans for ensuring that their gas supplies are secure, and puts in place procedures for emergency situations, such as adverse weather conditions, or the cut-off of imported gas supplies.  However, through some poorly drafted wording, the new law potentially threatens Member States' ultimate sovereignty over their gas supplies, and their control over their actions during an emergency situation, with the Commission gaining new powers to direct the situation, rather than to co-ordinate between states.

Speaking after the vote, Smith said:

"There is much to like in these new rules.  I'm pleased that we have clear procedures in place for preparing for an emergency, and the steps to be taken during an emergency: the EU was caught out last year when Russia turned off the taps for two weeks, and several eastern European countries suffered as a result.  It seems clear that we need to invest in greater strategic storage of gas supplies.  It's also good that we're laying out a strategy for making the EU gas grid more interconnected, particularly with regard to making inter-connectors bi-directional.  It's only right that all countries work together in crises.

"However, I feel that the balance of power in this Regulation goes too far from the Member States and towards the Commission, and as one of the few gas producing states of the EU I think Scotland has a national interest to be mindful of.  The Commission should, of course, play an important role during a gas crisis, to coordinate the actions of Member States, but these new rules potentially open the door for the Commission to take charge during the crisis, and issue instructions to the Member States, especially in the case of moving gas supplies around Europe.  I believe that nations should try to cooperate with each other, but when faced with a local crisis they have a right to do what it takes to secure their gas supply, even if this means restricting the flow of gas out of their country, and this is precisely what this regulation restricts.

"Furthermore, I believe the regulation to be badly drafted.  For instance, it states that "no measures are introduced which unduly restrict the flow of gas within the internal market at any time". The word "unduly" is a legal nonsense and makes the meaning of the clause totally ambiguous: a lawyer's paradise.

"For these reasons I had to reluctantly reject the regulation today.  However, it is now in place and I hope the Commission and Member States can apply it with a spirit of practicality and common sense, and respect for national sovereignty."