Sept 7 (Reuters) - * No big risk of Russia gas supply disruptions - Oettinger
* New proposal to centralise EU energy policy
* EU lawmaker rails against EU “empire-building”
BRUSSELS, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Russia’s energy minister has assured the European Union that Russia will not repeat gas supply disruptions to Ukraine this winter that in 2009 cut off gas for EU consumers, the EU’s energy chief said on Wednesday.
During a meeting last Saturday, Sergei Shmatko “made it absolutely clear that as far as he was concerned Russia and Gazprom will be respecting contractural commitments through the winter”, EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger told a news conference on the EU’s external energy security policy.
Oettinger was unveiling a proposal to centralise European energy policy in Brussels, part of which prioritises EU efforts to create a three-way dialogue with Russia and Ukraine to ensure smooth gas supplies — though he said that at present there was no reason to worry.
“You can never rule out problems (between suppliers such as Russia and importers such as Ukraine) but as it stands it would be wrong for me to say that I see a problem,” Oettinger said.
Oettinger’s proposal centered on a plan granting the executive European Commission greater powers to vet bilateral energy deals between EU states and foreign suppliers, as well as to negotiate on behalf of the 27-member bloc if a deal looks to have repercussions for the whole EU.
The plan needs approval from member states and the European Parliament, which Oettinger said he hoped for by year-end.
“It would be nice to think we could sort this out before the end of the year... Ideally we want unanimity,” Oettinger said.
Supporters of a centralised approach to Europe’s energy contracts say a single voice will give Europeans a better deal when negotiating with suppliers such as Russia, and limit the possibility of dividing the EU through preferential bilateral contracts.
“The answer is working for the collective interest because the pursuit of selfish individual goals simply cannot work in an interconnected economy and planet,” said Sanjeev Kumar, senior policy advisor at E3G, an environmental activist group.
But critics pointed out that a central role for the Commission would undermine negotiations by energy companies and threaten the confidential nature of bilateral agreements.
“Our energy arrangements are Britain’s own business, not the Commission’s. This is an attempt to control and interfere with our individual trading interests on a new and deeply worrying scale. The Commission is up to its old empire-building tricks,” Giles Chichester, a British lawmaker for the European Parliament’s group of centre-right parties, said in a statement. (Reporting by Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Keiron Henderson)