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Brussels seeks more say over energy deals
by Staff Writers
Brussels (UPI) Sep 9, 2011

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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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Brussels seeks EU shale gas rules: Oettinger
Wroclaw, Poland (AFP) Sept 9, 2011 - Brussels intends to draft European Union-wide rules on tapping shale-gas reserves, Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Friday, in the face of environmental concerns.

"I think we'll get a high level of acceptance when we have the same, European common standards, a high level of safety and security and quality for environmental interests," Oettinger told reporters during a visit to Wroclaw in southwest Poland.

"The best way is to Europeanise standard-efforts. We will bring some proposals to our member states maybe in the spring next year," he added.

Speaking to a gathering of centre-right parties from across the 27-nation EU, Oettinger also said that he was seeking "environmental protection standards that enable member states to grant licences within a clear framework".

Moves to tap gas from shale -- sedimentary rock containing hydrocarbons -- have sown deep divisions in Europe amid concerns that hydraulic fracturing used in its extraction is environmentally risky.

France, for example, has frozen extraction projects and slapped a legal ban on so-called "fracking".

But Poland is pushing ahead with moves to exploit reserves thought to contain some 5.3 trillion cubic metres of natural gas.

If the estimate proves right, it would allow Poland reduce its reliance on coal for electricity production and it reduce its dependence on Russian gas supplies, which cover 40 percent of its needs.

Little known even five years ago, tapping shale-gas is seen as having the potential to change global energy markets, for example by doubling the estimated reserves of the United States.

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