Brussels seeks more say over energy deals

Sept. 9, 2011 at 6:18 AM
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BRUSSELS, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Brussels is seeking to assert more control over energy deals between EU members and third parties, EU energy chief Gunther Oettinger said this week.

Oettinger said Wednesday the European Commission will ask for approval of a measure in which the Brussels leadership would have to be notified of any energy sector deal information "before and after" negotiations with third countries.

Under the proposal, if the deals weren't deemed in the best interests of the EU as a whole or are insufficiently transparent, the commission could sue member states to change the terms, The New York Times reported.

The goal, he said, is to "improve internal coordination so that the EU and its member states act together and speak with one voice" on issues regarding regional energy security -- and specifically its efforts to lessen dependence on Russia for natural gas.

"The EU energy policy has made real progress over the last several years," Oettinger said. "Now, the EU must extend the achievements of its large internal energy market beyond its borders to ensure the security of energy supplies to Europe and foster international energy partnerships."

The proposal would set up communications mechanisms aimed at inserting the European Commission into energy talks between non-EU members and member states, such as those between Poland, Germany and the Russian company Gazprom over access rights to the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

The measure would have to be approved by governments of the member states and the European Parliament to become law.

Oettinger also called for a mandate from EU members to take the lead in negotiations for the proposed Nabucco southern tier pipeline, which would link Caspian Sea producers Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan with European consumers, bypassing Russia.

The "core objectives" of Europe as a whole would be better served if such projects could be coordinated on the EU level, he said.

Though it would tread on the jealously guarded rights of European countries to make their own energy deals, Oettinger said he was optimistic the proposal would be taken up, telling reporters that member states have already backed the concept of more centralized management of international energy deals.

"I am hopeful that the Polish EU presidency will take a big interest in this proposal," he said. "We have had good cooperation with them and we hope that they will push for a quick ratification of it in the (European) Council."

The EU energy chief asserted the commission could be trusted to not break the confidentiality of ongoing deals, addressing a prime concern of ceding more power to Brussels.

But, member states that host big, multinational energy companies are likely to vociferously oppose any measure that grants more powers to the European Commission in the energy sphere, an unnamed European Council source told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

While smaller member states would benefit, those trying to nail down deals for oil with Libya's new government, for instance, wouldn't want EU observers at the negotiating table, the source said.

The proposal is in line with the other outward-looking parts of the EU's Energy 2020 strategy, Oettinger said, through which it will offer "a new partnership on renewable energy projects" with the southern Mediterranean countries and seek legally binding nuclear safety standards as part of multilateral negotiations.

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