In the corridors of Brussels’ elegant Stanhope Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, the well-turned-out movers-and-shakers of the European energy world were marvelling at the sizeable budget and high-profile guest list for the event they were attending.
Soon to share a dais were Günther Oettinger, the European energy commissioner; his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shmatko; Alexei Miller, the chairman of Russia’s Gazprom; and Paolo Scaroni, the chief executive of Italy’s Eni. The ballroom was appointed with flat-screen video monitors and rows of chairs with corporate gift boxes.
The event was a sort of a Brussels coming-out party (and charm offensive) for South Stream, a Gazprom-backed pipeline project that aims to carry Russian and Caspian gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, where it would then fork off to Italy and Austria. South Stream’s backers, which include Eni, and now BASF, are due to decide next year whether or not to push ahead with the €15.5bn investment necessary to complete the sprawling project.