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

CIAR Global | 12-Apr-2024
El comité ad hoc del procedimiento de anulación solicitado por España en el arbitraje mantenido con la alemana RWE Innogy y la española RWE Innogy Aersa S.A.U. por la reforma de las energías renovables, ante el CIADI, se ha pronunciado a favor de las compañías rechazando el razonamiento de la Abogacía General del Estado española de que el tribunal se extralimitó manifiestamente en sus facultades al contravenir el Derecho de la Unión Europea y aplicar el derecho equivocado.
Zone Bourse | 12-Apr-2024
Le groupe minier australien Berkeley Energia va porter son différend avec l’Espagne devant un tribunal d’arbitrage international après que le pays a refusé de donner son approbation finale à une mine d’uranium près de la ville de Salamanque. | 12-Apr-2024
Australian mining group Berkeley Energia will take its dispute with Spain to international arbitration after the country refused to give final approval to a uranium mine near the city of Salamanca.
La Información | 10-Apr-2024
La empresa ha asegurado que el Gobierno de España no ha mantenido ningún contacto para evitar la disputa y que "no ha tenido más opción que tomar medidas y hacer valer sus derechos en el proyecto de Salamanca".
Euronews | 10-Apr-2024
In a decisive committee vote, MEPs have supported the European Union’s exit from the Energy Charter Treaty over concerns its global investor-state dispute settlement system has been weaponised to sue governments over climate policy. Image d’illustration.
Le Soir | 10-Apr-2024
Le Traité sur la charte de l’énergie a été signé en 1994, au sortir de la guerre froide, pour offrir des garanties aux investisseurs dans les pays d’Europe de l’Est et de l’ex-URSS. Image d’illustration.
The Ecologist | 2-Apr-2024
Trade deals are used to extract valuable resources from the Global South - but a recent victory shows we can make a difference.
Reuters | 26-Mar-2024
The Dutch Supreme Court denied an appeal by Russia against the seizure of the rights to the Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya vodka brand names for the Benelux market by the former shareholders of now-defunct oil producer Yukos.
Euractiv | 22-Mar-2024
La Commission européenne a présenté au Parlement européen son plan visant à coordonner la sortie de l’UE du Traité sur la Charte de l’énergie (TCE), tout en permettant aux États membres de rester parties s’ils le souhaitent.
Euractiv | 22-Mar-2024
The European Commission’s plan to withdraw the bloc from the Energy Charter Treaty while allowing member states the right to remain if they choose was presented to Parliament.