April 24, 2017 / 10:44 AM / 4 months ago

Bulgaria may seek more time to reply to Gazprom concessions

SOFIA, April 24 (Reuters) - Bulgaria may need more time to respond to concessions proposed by Russian gas giant Gazprom in an EU antitrust case, its energy minister said on Monday, adding that while Sofia saw the concessions as positive it would like to see them expanded.

A provisional agreement announced last month would see Gazprom avoid a fine of up to 10 percent of its global turnover over EU charges it abused its dominant market position and overcharged clients in eight eastern European nations.

The deal is subject to feedback from EU states and market players that should be sent by May 4 and could still be amended or even abandoned.

Bulgaria, which is almost completely reliant on Russian natural gas supplies, needs more clarity on the concessions and will send questions to Brussels later on Monday, interim energy minister Nikolai Pavlov told reporters.

"We see the proposals as positive but we want them to be expanded," Pavlov said after a meeting with politicians from the election winning GERB party which is expected to form a coalition government in early May.

"There are quite a few ambiguities on the proposed commitments ... If we do not get answers on time we will ask for the deadline to be extended, because the information is not sufficient," he said without elaborating.

Gazprom's offer would see it scrap contract terms that bar clients from exporting its gas to other countries and tie deals to investments in pipelines. The company would also link its prices to benchmarks such as European gas market hub prices, rather than oil, and allow clients to renegotiate prices every two years.

Pavlov said he expected the Bulgarian position to be agreed after a debate in parliament by the end of the week.

He said current contracts with Gazprom allowed Bulgaria to export Russian gas and that Gazprom's proposal not to seek damages from Bulgarian partners over the cancelled South Stream gas pipeline project had been arranged back in 2012.

A source, familiar with the matter said Bulgaria would need more details on the exact future benchmark for gas prices and would also seek guarantees it would be a natural gas transit country. Currently, Russia transports about 14-15 billion cubic metres of gas per year to Greece and Turkey through Bulgaria.

"It is important to uphold the position of Bulgaria as a transit gas centre and defend the interests of the country through the possibility for following talks with Gazprom to renegotiate much better conditions and much better prices for gas supplies," said GERB party official and former energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova. (Editing by Mark Potter)

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