EU countries that pay for Russian gas in rubles may face legal action

BRUSSELS (Parliament Politics Magazine) – Brussels is prepared to file a lawsuit against EU countries that enable their energy corporations to pay for Russian gas in roubles, in violation of EU sanctions.

On Thursday afternoon, Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission Executive Vice-President, told Euronews, “It’s a relatively complex setting.”

On the one hand, member states are in charge of overseeing the sanctions’ implementation by concrete companies on their soil. However, as the European Commission, they are keeping an eye on whether member states are truly enforcing sanctions.

If they discover that this is not the case, he cautioned, there is a chance that the European Commission would initiate infringement processes in this area.

The vice-remarks president’s come a day after Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy conglomerate, chose to halt gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria.

The two countries had refused to follow President Vladimir Putin’s rule, which requires “unfriendly” foreign purchasers, such as the EU’s 27 member states, to open a second bank account for converting euros into rubles and then paying for Russian fossil fuels.

The directive is intended to support the national currency, which fell precipitously in early March before gradually recovering to pre-war levels.

The reliance on Russian gas still a major issue

According to the Commission, about 97 percent of EU gas contracts with Russia expressly state that payments must be made in either euros or dollars.

In response to Gazprom’s decision, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen remarked, “Companies with such contracts should not bow to Russian demands.” This would be a violation of EU sanctions, posing a significant danger to the companies.

Russia’s Central Bank, which is subject to tight Western sanctions, will get straight access to euros and be able to build up its foreign reserves, according to the management.

Despite Brussels’ demand, capitals are perplexed over how to respond to Putin’s directive, considering many countries’ reliance on Russian gas.

It was reported by Bloomberg this week that ten European energy firms, which the source did not name, have opened bank accounts in rubles, and four among them have already made the payments in Russian currency.

Uniper, one of Germany’s largest energy companies, told the BBC that its euro payments would be converted to rubles, claiming that it is not possible to do without gas in the short term.

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian Prime Minister, has also stated that if asked, his country would be willing to pay in roubles in order to get energy supplies.

Dombrovskis didn’t Hungary by name, instead emphasising that the EU had been united in its response to Russia’s three-month-long invasion of Ukraine.

The EU’s next package of sanctions will include steps to limit Russian oil imports, according to the trade chief, but he refused to offer details because political negotiations between capitals and the Commission are ongoing.

The EU pays the most money (about €70 billion in 2021) for oil but it is also the easiest to substitute in the event of an EU-wide embargo.

Kourtney Spak

Kourtney Spak is an american journalist and political commentator. Her journalism career focuses on American domestic policy and also foreign affairs. She also writes on environment, climate change and economy.