EU officials approved a revised fuel supply plan for a Russian-built nuclear reactor in Hungary this week, putting the project back on track after Brussels initially rejected its proposal on the grounds that Budapest was giving Moscow too sweet a deal without opening up contracts to competitive bidding. The FT reports:
Hungarian officials have worked to win Brussels’ approval by cutting Rosatom’s exclusive rights from 20 years to 10 years, said an official familiar with the talks. After this initial period, other suppliers would be entitled to bid for new supply contracts.
Officials also said the new deal would give other suppliers the right to test the suitability of their fuels in the reactors once they had started operating.
This isn’t the last regulatory hurdle the nuclear project needs to clear, but after the EU stepped in last month it certainly seems the most significant. Brussels seems to have won a concession by halving the time period during which Russian-owned Rosatom will have exclusive fuel supply rights, and will hope this sends a message to the Kremlin that its days of using energy supplies as leverage over Europe are numbered.
It hasn’t been a good week for Russia on that front. Earlier this week the European Commission opened a long-awaited anti-trust case against Gazprom. Hungary will be happy to see this nuclear project seemingly back on track, but the EU will hope that Putin gets the message from its opposition that the continent isn’t content to act as a pliant consumer.
That being said, Europe still needs Russia to meet its energy needs. Anti-trust cases and nuclear deal concessions don’t change the fact that Putin wields important leverage.