First insights

OMV/Gazprom: Commission to scrutinize contract

09.07.2024 14:54

There are many myths surrounding OMV's gas supply contract with Russia's Gazprom, which has been in place for decades. At the latest since Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis, it has been on everyone's lips - even if only very few people know what it contains. That is now set to change.

So far, only the partly state-owned OMV knows the exact content of the contract, but not the government or the regulatory authority E-Control. What is known, apart from the long term, is that a "take or pay" clause has been agreed: Gazprom supplies and OMV must pay, even if it does not need the gas.

Extended to 2040 long before the end of the term
The deal, which originally ran until 2028, was extended ahead of schedule until 2040 in 2018 in the presence of the then ÖVP Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. The resulting heavy dependence on Russian gas became a problem for Austria, particularly during the war in Ukraine.

Under CEO Rainer Seele (left), OMV has thrown its weight behind Gazprom (in the person of CEO Alexey Miller) until 2040. (Bild: APA/ROBERT JAEGER)
Under CEO Rainer Seele (left), OMV has thrown its weight behind Gazprom (in the person of CEO Alexey Miller) until 2040.

Gewessler: "Contract extension was a mistake"
"The contract extension in 2018 was a mistake," said Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) on Tuesday. She is now setting up a committee called the "Gas Independence Commission" to examine the contract and shed light on the matter. Individual members will also be given an insight into the gas deal.

The commission is to sound out whether there is a way to get out of the contract. The political circumstances surrounding the contract extension will also be analyzed. The commission will be chaired by the former President of the Supreme Court, Irmgard Griss, and university professor Andreas Kletečka. Initial results should be available in the fall, with a final report due by the end of the year.

Gewessler and the chairs of the commission, Irmgard Griss and Andreas Kletečka (Bild: APA/Tobias Steinmaurer)
Gewessler and the chairs of the commission, Irmgard Griss and Andreas Kletečka

"The commission will look at the treaty and consider how it is possible to get out of these obligations," said Griss. A second question that the Commission wants to address is: "How do we proceed in future with contracts that are concluded by a private company, but which have an immense impact on the economic and security situation and on living conditions in Austria in general?" said the former Supreme Court President.

"That's not what private law is for"
In the case of the gas supply contract, "essential aspects of energy policy and even foreign policy" are governed by private law, said Kletečka. "That's not what private law is for. We need to find a structure to organize this differently in the future."

Illustrious commission of experts
The commission will conduct interviews and analyze the information available on the 2018 contract extension. Other members of the commission are the former head of the Federal Competition Authority, Walter Barfuß, former E-Control board member Walter Boltz, Wifo CEO Gabriel Felbermayr, former AGGM board member Thomas Starlinger and Velina Tchakarova, former director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy.

Strict security measures for access to treaties
Even now, the Commission will only be able to view the contracts under strict security precautions and in accordance with the legal requirements of the EU's "Gas SOS Regulation". The Commission will protect OMV's business secrets and is "not responsible for investigating business decisions", Gewessler emphasized.

ÖVP: "Contracts concluded with the best of foresight"
The coalition partner ÖVP has little sympathy: energy spokesperson Tanja Graf sees the commission as an "election campaign by the Green Minister on her own behalf". Gewessler is instrumentalizing the contracts "concluded with the best of foresight" for "political showmanship". The NEOS take a similar view: the appointment of the commission is a "late insight by Gewessler, which is probably due to the election campaign".

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