Energy Charter Treaty

The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is a plurilateral investment agreement between 53 European and Central Asian countries. It was signed in 1994 and entered into force in April 1998.

About 30 countries around the world are at different stages of joining the ECT. Burundi, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Mauritania are first in line, followed by Pakistan and Uganda.

The original objective of the ECT was to overcome the political and economic divisions between Eastern and Western Europe after the demise of the Soviet Union, as well as to strengthen Europe’s energy security. European countries wanted to secure the access to fossil fuel resources of the former Soviet countries by protecting foreign energy investments in these countries.

The ECT provides for an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism to resolve disputes between an investor and a member state. To this day, it is the world’s most widely used legal instrument for initiating ISDS arbitrations. It has been invoked by investors in 124 cases.

Critics argue that as with most other investment agreements, it places investors’ economic rights and interests over the social, ecological and economic interests of host states and their societies. The ECT imposes obligations on the host state but not on foreign investors. The ECT has also been condemned by environmental activists for protecting the fossil fuel industry and undermining serious climate action.

Spain has been subject to 45 arbitration disputes under the ECT after it implemented a series of energy reforms affecting the renewables sector, including a reduction in subsidies for producers. While some cases are still pending, Spain has already been ordered to pay over €800 million.

You can find out more about the Energy Charter Treaty on the ECT’s dirty secrets website.

Key cases include:

Vattenfall (Sweden) vs. Germany: In 2007 the Swedish energy corporation was granted a provisional permit to build a coal-fired power plant near the city of Hamburg. In an effort to protect the Elbe river from the waste waters dumped from the plant, environmental restrictions were added before the final approval of its construction. The investor initiated a dispute, arguing it would make the project unviable. The case was ultimately settled in 2011, with the city of Hamburg agreeing to the lowering of environmental standards.

Yukos (Isle of Man) vs. Russia: Yukos was a Russian oil and gas company. It was acquired from the Russian government during the controversial “loans for shares” auctions of the mid 1990s, whereby some of the largest state industrial assets were leased (in effect privatized) through auctions for money lent by commercial banks to the government. The auctions were rigged and lacked competition, and effectively became a form of selling for a very low price. In 2003, the Yukos CEO was arrested on charges of fraud and tax evasion and the following year Yukos’ assets were frozen or confiscated. In 2007 Yukos’ former shareholders filed a claim for over US$100 billion, seeking compensation for their expropriation. The dispute resulted in 2014 in the arbitrators awarding the majority shareholders over US$50 billion in damages. The investors have been trying to enforce the award in several countries since then.

NextEra (Netherland) vs. Spain: The Dutch investor filed for arbitration in May 2014, after Spain changed the regulatory framework applicable to its investment, namely the construction of two solar power plants. NextEra claimed that Spain abolished the long-term premium and tariff system, negatively affecting the profitability of the project. However, Spain alleged that NextEra should have been aware that changes could be made to the regulatory regime. In May 2019, the investor was awarded around €290 million. Spain filed for annulment in October 2019.

Photo: Marc Maes / Twitter

Last update: April 2020

CIEL | 23-Sep-2022
What recent case law and treaty reforms may mean for the future of investment arbitration in the energy sector.
Stop CETA Mercosur | 21-Sep-2022
Depuis le 2 septembre, la France est officiellement poursuivie au titre du Traité sur la charte de l’énergie.
Client Earth | 21-Sep-2022
An international treaty that hamstrings governments’ ability to make climate policy is still in force – and an attempted overhaul has not worked. This is why the EU and its member states need to walk away from the Energy Charter Treaty.
CIAR Global | 20-Sep-2022
El 14 de septiembre de 2022, el tribunal del arbitraje de inversiones entre Mathias Kruck y otros v. España emitió su “Decision sobre jurisdicción, responsabilidad y quantum“ rechazando argumento de España sobre incompatibilidad del Tratado de la Carta de la Energía (TCE) con el Derecho de la Unión Europea.
IISD | 15-Sep-2022
The text of the agreement in principle to modernize the Energy Charter Treaty leaves unanswered too many crucial questions about the possibility of further fossil fuel carveouts and the exact timing of its entry into force.
CNCD 11.11.11 | 14-Sep-2022
La version réformée du traité comporte des avancées qui ne sont toutefois pas suffisantes pour répondre à l’urgence climatique.
State of Power | 14-Sep-2022
The ECT Secretariat, whose survival depends on continuation of the treaty, continues to lobby these countries to take additional steps towards acceding to the Energy Charter Treaty.
Novethic | 9-Sep-2022
Après l’Espagne, l’Italie ou encore l’Allemagne, c’est au tour de la France de subir de façon très concrète les foudres du Traité sur la charte de l’énergie.
Stop CETA Mercosur | 7-Sep-2022
En vertu du très controversé Traité sur la charte de l’énergie, l’État italien vient d’être condamné à verser 190 millions d’euros, plus les intérêts, à la société pétrolière britannique Rockhopper.
Euractiv | 5-Sep-2022
Polonia se ha sumado a los países de la Unión Europea (UE) críticos del controvertido Tratado sobre la Carta de la Energía (Energy Charter Treaty, o ECT), por lo que el gobierno de Varsovia aprobó el proyecto de ley sobre la “rescisión del Tratado sobre la Carta de la Energía”.

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