The Czech Republic appears to have got itself in hot water after the government refused to back a letter from seven Central European countries attacking a German-Russian project for a new gas pipeline. The Nord Stream II link under the Baltic would bypass both Ukraine and make Slovakia a backwater for gas transport.
The main mover behind the protest letter addressed to the European Commission was the Czech Republic’s closest Central European friend and neighbour, Slovakia. It is likely to be one of the worst affected countries if Russia and Germany push ahead with plans to build a new gas pipeline link Transportation of Russian gas through Ukraine and Slovakia and onto Western Europe is liable to decline dramatically and perhaps end altogether.
Bratislava signed up the Baltic States, Ukraine, as well as Poland and Hungary to its strong protest letter to Brussels that such a link would damage European energy security. On the financial front, Slovakia would could likely lose out on hundreds of millions of euros in gas transport fees if its main pipeline instead of being a gas highway turns into a dead end.
Minister of Industry and Trade Jan Mládek, who tried to win support for the letter drafted by his Slovak counterpart, explained what happened at the government meeting this week.
“We would [have] preferred a softer wording of the letter. Unfortunately, we were put in the position of either sign or not and I was not able to collect sufficient votes of the government members to support this letter of Mr. [Vazil] Hudák.”
The Czech minister says Prague is broadly in sympathy with Slovakia and the other countries but the matter is not quite so clear cut:
“We are definitely supporting the transit [of natural gas] through Ukraine, through Slovakia and we do understand the concerns of those countries if the transit would be stopped. And it would not help the Czech Republic either because we do prefer to have two for access to Russian gas because we can get it now either through Nord Stream and also the gas pipeline through Ukraine and we would keep both of them. On the other hand it would be a bit difficult for us to be boldly against Nord Stream II because it is increasingly the security of supply for us as well.”
But there is also admission in private that the Czech Republic does not want to risk a further deterioration of relations with Germany. These have already been soured by differences over the immigrant crisis and a conflict over such a strategic and high priced project could be risky. Minister Mládek was due to speak to his Slovak counterpart on Friday to patch up relations.