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EC proposes tough new rules on energy deals with third party countries

European commission’s plans would require it to vet members’ energy agreements with countries such as Libya or Russia

European governments negotiating major energy deals with third countries such as Russia or Libya will need to submit any agreements to Brussels for vetting by the European commission, under new rules being proposed on Wednesday.

Commission officials will also have the right to sit in on the negotiations between EU member states and third party governments, according to a draft EC decision obtained by the Guardian.

Günther Oettinger of Germany, the energy commissioner in Brussels, is to unveil a raft of policy proposals on EU energy security , including calls for a “mandatory exchange of information” between the commission and all 27 EU member states on all inter-governmental agreements on energy supplies with third countries on which Europe is increasingly dependent for its gas and oil.

According to diplomats in Brussels, Italy and Greece are already balking at the demands to share confidential information on deals with Russia, by far the EU’s biggest source of gas. Many other countries are certain to resist calls for EU officials to be entitled to police government negotiations with non-EU states.

With the UK, France and Italy gearing up for the contest over oil-supply agreements with Libya, for example, their governments will be reluctant to share negotiating detail with other countries, or to allow outsiders to observe the bargaining.

“It’s a commission push for control. I can’t see any government in a million years agreeing to this,” said one EU diplomat. “The commission would be part of every single negotiation and privy to all the information.”

European governments have around 100 agreements with third countries on gas, oil, and electricity supplies, underpinning the commercial contracts that flow from them, according to commission figures. At present, Brussels is denied access to the details.

EU governments “shall submit all existing and provisionally applied intergovernmental agreements between them and third countries in their entirety, including their annexes and other texts and all amendments to the commission”, the new document states. “The commission shall make the received documents accessible in electronic form to all other member states … On request of the commission or the member state concerned, the commission may participate as an observer in the negotiations.”

Requests from governments to treat “commercial information in particular” as confidential and not to be shared with other governments will be honoured, it says. But “requests for confidentiality do not restrict access of the commission itself to confidential information”.

The intrusive new powers are needed to ensure the agreements comply with European law, Oettinger argues, at a time when Europe’s appetite for imported energy is soaring. The commission calculates that 57% of EU energy consumption will be from imports within 20 years.

“Facing a possible supply shortage, member states are under increasing pressure to accept regulatory concessions in their inter-governmental agreements with third countries which are incompatible with [EU] energy law. Such regulatory concessions threaten the operation and proper functioning of the [EU] internal market for energy.

“The status quo is unsatisfactory,” the document states. “A legal instrument for mandatory exchange of information is therefore the only option that will guarantee that the stated policy objectives are met … It will allow taking the perspective of the collective security of supply situation in the EU, instead of a national perspective.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds