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

CEO | 30-Jun-2021
Estamos en el noreste de Eslovenia en una pequeña comunidad llamada Petišovci. Es aquí donde la empresa británica Ascent Resources pretendía extraer gas mediante fracking.
CEO | 30-Jun-2021
Nous sommes au nord-est de la Slovénie dans une petite communauté qui s’appelle Petišovci. C’est ici qu’une société britannique appelée Ascent Resources voulait exploiter du gaz de schiste.
CEO | 30-Jun-2021
Amid the climate and environmental emergency, a British oil and gas company is threatening to sue Slovenia for requiring an environmental impact assessment for a controversial gas fracking project.
CNCD 11.11.11 | 30-Jun-2021
Des solutions existent pour mettre ce traité anachronique et contraire aux objectifs climatiques hors d’état de nuire.
Leadership | 23-Jun-2021
Nigerian labour unions and civil society organizations have urged the government not to assent to the ECT, explaining that the Treaty contains provisions for an Investor-State Dispute System (ISDS), which accords investors obscene privileges.
CIAR Global | 14-Jun-2021
La Comisión Europea y los Estados miembros han participado en la quinta ronda de negociación sobre la modernización del Tratado de la Carta de la Energía (TCE). Entre los temas discutidos: la Solución de Controversias.
CIAR Global | 13-Jun-2021
Finalmente, las compañías inversoras en energías renovables Eiser Infrastructure Ltd. y Energia Solar Luxembourg SARL han renunciado a su lucha por el laudo de 128 millones de euros contra España, emitido a su favor en 2017 y que fue anulado porque el árbitro designado por los inversores tenía un conflicto de intereses que no había sido revelado.
Energy Charter | 3-Jun-2021
Nigeria has completed all three of its accession reports but the Energy Charter Conference placed restrictions on ECT accession finalization procedures, placing Nigeria’s accession path into a state of pause.
Euractiv | 1-Jun-2021
After four unsuccessful negotiation rounds, and with a fifth round starting this week that does not bring any silver linings in terms of outcome, the time has come for the EU and its member states to leave the ECT.
King & Wood Mallesons | 5-May-2021
In order to mitigate host state risk, foreign investors should consider the importance of investment treaty protection.

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