Europe queries Russia-Poland gas transit deal

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Europe raised fears on Tuesday about terms for access to a gas pipeline under a deal between Russian and Polish gas giants that the EU worries may breach European competition law.

Russia's Gazprom and Poland's PGNiG struck an agreement in January on transit volumes and rates for gas crossing Poland en route to Europe through the Yamal-Europe pipeline. The deal will run through until 2045, but Poland has yet to sign the contract awaiting advice from Brussels.

The EU has relayed to Moscow and Warsaw concerns over the management of the pipeline by joint venture EuRoPol Gaz, which is 96 percent owned by Gazprom and PGNiG, with talks scheduled for next week.

"Our concerns relate to the management generally of the pipeline," said Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the European Commission that polices competition law across the 27-nation European Union.

"We want to be certain that it is not just a pipeline that is operated by one or two companies but that this is accessible by third party operators -- and at fair tariffs -- and that it is in the interests of the Polish consumer.

"We're examining the contract, we would like to see that it respects EU law," he underlined.

Relations were strained for years prior to the agreement being announced, with negotiations soiled by PGNiG accusations that Gazprom was seeking steep tariff hikes and undue influence over the running of the pipeline.

Contractual negotiations with transit partners in Russia's former Soviet sphere of influence have frequently raised fears about threats to Europe's supply, which is hugely dependent on imports from Russia.

© 2010 AFP

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