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EU parliament panel against Baltic gas link

Germany and Russia should drop plans to build a natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea unless all countries with a shoreline agree -- an unlikely prospect, a European parliament committee said on Tuesday.

In a non-binding report, the petitions committee also called for the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, to carry out a new study of the planned pipeline’s impact on the environment. The Nord Stream pipeline, due to link Russia and Germany and involving Gazprom, E.ON and BASF, has sparked protests in countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Estonia, angered at being shut out of a key gas supply route.

Poland in particular has spoken out against the pipeline, fearing that Russia could eventually use it to avoid shipping gas across Polish territory to western Europe. “The Baltic Sea is today one of the world’s most polluted maritime areas and in particular the concentration of hazardous substances both in its waters and in its living organisms remains unnaturally high,” the report drafted by right-wing Polish EU lawmaker Marcin Libicki said. Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have Baltic coastlines. Nord Stream would cut through the territorial waters of Finland, Sweden and Denmark, so under international law only their agreement is needed for the pipeline’s construction.

The Commission, which says the pipeline would diversify EU gas supplies, could ask the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, to halt the project in an extreme case if Brussels were to reject completely its environmental impact assessment. Nord Stream has yet to present the assessment, which is being carried out by independent consultants. “Nord Stream is fully committed to preserving the Baltic Sea environment, having commissioned the most comprehensive studies ever conducted of the area,” Maartje van Putten, EU affairs representative for Nord Stream, said in a statement. The statement added the report was “misleading, making a number of factually incorrect claims about the impact of the pipeline on the Baltic Sea environment”.

The report of the committee, which scrutinizes complaints by EU citizens, said the pipeline’s construction could create an ecological disaster if workers disturbed Nazi German chemical weapons that have lain on the Baltic seabed since World War Two. The full EU parliament will vote on the report in July.

Swiss-based Nord Stream plans to start work on the 1,200 km (750 mile) pipeline in 2009 and complete it in 2010. (Reuters)