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EU Unveils Plans To Battle 'Vicious Cycle' Of Energy Dependency

European Commission President Barroso (right) and Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs
BRUSSELS -- Increasing political and economic instability in the world is forcing the EU to move up plans to reduce its vulnerabilities, chief among which is its growing dependency on outside energy suppliers.

Unveiling a raft of new proposals to make the EU more self-sufficient, the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said their aim is to break current trends. "We must break the vicious energy cycle of increased energy consumption and increased imports," he said.

Barroso cited some telling statistics. The EU currently imports 55 percent of its oil and gas, and on current trends this figure will exceed 70 percent by 2020.

The package of measures proposed by the commission includes diversifying imports, improving infrastructure interconnections between member states to allow for greater solidarity in times of crisis, and raising energy efficiency standards across the economy.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs noted that if implemented, the measures would freeze EU oil and gas imports at current levels -- allaying, among other things, fears that the EU may be relying on reserves that are simply not out there.

"European import dependency -- if the package is adopted and implemented -- will not increase," Piebalgs said. "Second message, gas imports -- that a lot of industry has feared that, well, there may not be sufficient gas [reserves in supplier countries] -- actually in absolute volumes will not increase."

Relationship With Russia

Stabilizing imports has an important political element for the EU. Their dependency on Russian oil and gas imports is increasingly seen to be affecting policy choices in a number of large EU member states.

Others remain vulnerable to possible outright Russian manipulation. Barroso noted that eight EU member states are dependent on a single energy supplier.

To decrease Russian influence, the EU is trying to secure direct access to the massive gas and oil reserves in the Caspian Sea region, cutting out the Russian middle man.

But Barroso was at pains to note that his message to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on November 14 at an EU-Russia summit in Nice is "not a negative one."

"Just as we seek security of supply, external suppliers are looking for security of demand -- with the European Union being by far the largest client for Russian gas exports," Barroso said. "That's why we believe it is in both of our interests to have a clear legal framework in place."

But Commissioner Piebalgs rebuffed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's request, aired in Finland on November 12, that the EU invest in the planned Nord Stream pipeline running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

Piebalgs said the EU "takes note" of the demand, but has no plans for emergency measures to support the Russian side should the project run out of money.

"We need the project, but it's a commercial project with commercial risks," Piebalgs said. "If the risks are too high -- well it's a pity but that's how things are."

Piebalgs did stress, on the other hand, that creating a corridor to the Caspian Sea by means of the Nabucco pipeline project and various other related undertakings remains a vital "European interest."