EU seeks insight into energy deals amid bid to curb Russia dependence

The European Union should have insight into energy deals negotiated by its member states and companies, the bloc's executive proposed Tuesday, amid a push to rely less on Russian gas.

Top EU officials said that the proposal is not specifically aimed at Moscow or its gas giant Gazprom. But they are likely to be most affected by new transparency rules since Russia is the largest external supplier of energy to the 28-country bloc.

The EU has stepped up work on varying its energy sources following concerns that Moscow was quick to employ gas as a pressure tool during the Ukraine crisis.

"The political tensions on our borders are a sharp reminder that this problem [of gas supply disruptions] will not just go away," EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said.

The European Commission wants member states to prepare risk assessments and emergency plans to be better prepared for such disruptions. This would require gas companies to submit usually confidential contracts to EU scrutiny, it argued.

Under its proposal, companies would have to disclose a contract's duration, volume, delivery points and suspension conditions if it exceeds one year and involves a market share of at least 40 per cent.

"This is not about the commission snooping on commercial deals. It is not about the commission checking prices or making changes to private contracts," Canete said. "This is about having greater transparency."

The Brussels institution also would like more of a say on energy agreements between EU countries and outside nations, to prevent deals that violate the bloc's rules.

The commission wants member states to seek its opinion before they sign any deal affecting the EU's energy security. Those who do not comply with its findings should then face the threat of fines.

But the proposal is likely to prove controversial, with EU countries usually loath to relinquish power over energy decisions to Brussels.

EU governments and the European Parliament have to approve the commission's plans for them to become law. The package also includes strategies to improve member states' access to liquefied natural gas and energy efficiency in heating and cooling.

The EU is trying to wean itself off fossil fuels. However, Canete said this would not happen overnight, noting that gas could be the "bridge between coal and renewables."

"The point is that gas will still be an important part of our energy system come 2030," he added.

But environmental groups accused the Commission of dragging its heels, despite pledges made at last year's Paris climate conference to cut back on fossil fuels.

"It's like the Paris agreement never happened," said Jiri Jerabek of Greenpeace, adding that the Commission's proposal will "keep Europe hooked on energy imports."

The EU's executive is effectively "rolling out the red carpet for Gazprom," added EU lawmaker Claude Turmes of the Greens in the European Parliament.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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