Burckhard Bergmann, chairman of the board at German energy
supplier E.ON Ruhrgas, holds another title not likely to appear on
his business card: Russia's honorary consul in the state of North
Mr. Bergmann took the post late last year, raising some concern
about conflicts of interest between Germany's largest energy company
and one of the world's largest energy exporters.
"President Putin told me, 'You are my new employee in Germany
now,' " joked Bergmann - the only foreigner with a seat on the board
of Gazprom, Russia's energy giant - during a recent interview in Der
Spiegel, a prominent German news magazine. "But he was laughing when
he was saying that."
Brussels isn't laughing. As European Union (EU) leaders - meeting
Thursday for a two-day summit - struggle to establish a unified
energy security policy that will lessen the bloc's dependence on
Russia, the close ties between many European energy companies and
Moscow pose a signficant challenge.
In a bid to secure a foothold in Russia's vast natural-gas
reserves, E.ON, Gas de France, and Eni of Italy have in the past
year signed new, long-term contracts with Kremlin-backed Gazprom
that allow it direct access to their markets and consumers. The
result is that Gazprom's grip on European markets is
growingstronger, controlling not only the exploration and delivery
of natural gas, but, increasingly, the sale of it as well.
"This is a problem for Europe," says Katinka Barysch, chief
economist at the Center for European Reform in London. "What we're
trying to do in Europe is create an integrated, open, and liberal
gas market. You can't do that if you have one company controlling
the entire gas supply chain."
A call for more deals with Gazprom
Last month, officials from E.ON, Gas de France, Eni of Italy and
others joined Gazprom at the Russian House of Science and Culture
here for an energy conference - less than a week after an EU-Russia
summit collapsed in part over differences on energy policy. At the
conference, executives called for a thaw in EU-Russian relations and
said more dealings, not fewer, with Gazprom are the key to energy
The relationship between Gazprom and different European energy
companies often goes deeper than simple supply contracts (see box).
In a prearranged deal, Eni bid this spring on behalf of Gazprom
when valuable assets of the now-defunct Russian energy company Yukos
went on auction. After selling Yukos assets to Gazprom, Eni was
granted access to Gazprom's gas fields.
Gazprom produces 90 percent of Russia's natural gas and owns most
of its pipelines. Europe gets 25 to 40 percent of its natural gas
from Russia, a figure that could double two decades from now,
according to Fariborz Ghadar, director of the Center for Global
Business Studies at Penn State University. …