• Natural-gas pipeline to be constructed by December 2019
  • EU grant will cover more than 50% of construction cost

A natural gas pipeline between Poland and Lithuania, which will link the Baltic region with the rest of the European Union, got an injection of 295.4 million euros ($337.9 million) from the bloc’s coffers.

The project, valued at 558 million euros, will enable shipping 2.4 billion cubic meters of gas a year from Poland to Lithuania and 1 billion cubic meters a year in the reverse direction. It will also help Latvia and Estonia diversify their energy supply, now predominantly dependent on Russia.

“It is investment that will pay a dividend: the free flow of energy in Europe,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a press conference in Brussels. “Today we have done much more than brought the energy isolation of the Baltic states to an end. Today we have agreed on European infrastructure that will unite us.”

Increasing the security of energy supply, diversifying sources and strengthening cross-border gas and power links is at the heart of the EU’s energy union strategy, which the Juncker commission outlined earlier this year. The agreement signed by Poland, Lithuania and the commission on Thursday will allow the construction of the gas interconnector by December 2019.

The Ukrainian crisis has highlighted the need for Europe to cut its energy dependence on Russia, which supplied 27 percent of the bloc’s natural gas last year. The EU imports 53 percent of the energy it consumes at a cost of 1 billion euros per day, according to the commission.

Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Latvia reached a deal on how to share the costs to build the gas interconnector only last month. The compromise involved a compensation to Poland, financing the biggest chunk of the 534-kilometer pipeline.

“The agreement was stumbling for a very, very long time because of political, financial reasons, or perhaps ambition even,’’ Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said. “Lithuania will achieve enormous goals by integrating into European energy system both with gas and electricity. One can say that a common European energy market will be accomplished and will begin operating fully.’’

The gas link, 357 kilometers long in Poland and 177 kilometers in Lithuania, has the status of a priority project for the European energy market. It will offer the region a leverage in talks with Russia, the dominant supplier, Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said.

“The project will let us overcome historic limitations, such as the direction of gas flows from east to west,” she told reporters.

In another effort to build closer energy ties and boost the security of energy supply, next month Poland and Lithuania will begin tests of the newly built 500-megawatt power cable linking both countries.

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