OPAL is the continuation of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in Germany. It connects Nord Stream to existing European gas transportation networks. OPAL allows for delivery of natural gas to Europe, bypassing Ukraine.
Previously, European restrictions allowed Russia's Gazprom energy company to use only 50-55 percent of the pipeline's capacity for Russian natural gas to be delivered across Germany to the Czech Republic. The restrictions are outlined in the European Union’s Third Energy Package which reserves the other half for independent gas suppliers.
Gazprom asked European authorities to exclude OPAL from the Third Energy Package rules, due to concerns that Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine may be interrupted.
The EU asked Gazprom to provide written obligations in order to settle an anti-trust case against the Russian company. Gazprom has been accused of violating anti-monopoly regulations in eight Eastern European markets.
The move indicates a significant change of heart by the European Commission towards Gazprom, said Georges Estievenart, head of the Brussels-based European Prospective and Security Institute.
"It’s obvious that a change has happened. A warning was made about the energy issue, especially in the light of the Ukrainian crisis. Geopolitics had an impact on European Commission’s stance on the problem," Estievenart told Sputnik France.
"By the way, there is no doubt that it was Germany who pressured the European Commission. Germany is especially interested in increased gas supplies because it is more dependent than other countries on Russian gas," Estievenart pointed out.
There are two reasons why the EU wants to reach a compromise with Gazprom, he added.
"First, the EU is looking for reliable energy supplies, especially amid the depletion of gas reserves in the Netherlands. This is why Europe wants to secure gas shipments from Russia. The second reason is the political instability, especially around Syria and Ukraine," Estievenart concluded.