EC launches probe of tender for Bulgarian section of South Stream

The European Commission is inspecting whether Bulgaria allowed breaches of EU law in the tender to select a contractor for the South Stream gas pipeline project.

The probe concerns complaints of companies over the short deadlines for the submission of tender documents, which largely coincided with the Christmas and New Year holidays, according to reports of the Bulgarian National Radio (BNR).

"The EC is aware of the concerns surrounding the public procurement procedures for the construction of the Bulgarian section of the South Stream pipeline," said Chantal Hughes, spokesperson for the European Commission's internal market.

"Our experts are examining the matter. It is still too early to say what rules must be applied and whether some of them were violated, but we are assessing the situation and we have established the respective contacts. In any case, the EC attaches great importance to the right application of public procurement rules in the entire EU,' she added.

Hughes said that, to the best of her knowledge, the case did not concern application but expression of interest to participate in the tendering process, adding that a range of deadlines for document submission were applied in such cases, the usual one being a minimum of 10 days.

She noted that it was important to specify what EU laws were applicable to the matter because it involved an international agreement on granting exclusive rights.

Meanwhile it emerged that EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger was going to inform Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak at a meeting on Friday in Moscow that the intergovernmental agreements on the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline on the territory of the EU had to be renegotiated.

The announcement was made at a press conference in response to a question Sabine Berger, spokeswoman for European Commissioner for Energy Gunther Oettinger, according to reports of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency (BTA).

She pointed out that the six EU Member States on the route of the gas pipeline, including Bulgaria, had asked the EC that the agreements be brought into conformity with EU law after the EC found discrepancies.

Berger added that in this case it was not necessary for the EC to be authorized by the EU Council but did not specify whether the EC had already been given mandate for talks with Russia.

Earlier on Tuesday, an EU official speaking on condition of anonymity declared that the EC lacked the formal authorization to hold talks with Russia on changes to the bilateral agreements of the six EU Member States on the South Stream gas pipeline.

According to the EU official, as cited in the blog of Brussels-based journalist Veselin Zhelev, an official mandate for negotiations was granted through a decision of the EU Council of Ministers.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russian Permanent Representative to the EU stated on Monday that Russia was not going to hold talks with the EC on the cancellation or suspension of the validity of the intergovernmental agreements on the South Stream project.

Adapted from Novinite