The European Union said Wednesday it wants its member states to share information on energy agreements they make with non-EU countries.
Better sharing of information on existing and planned bilateral energy contracts is necessary to improve the bloc's energy security and make sure new agreements don't break European law, the EU's Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said.
Under the new information-sharing mechanism, EU states would have to involve the European Commission, the EU's executive, in negotiations with third countries and keep other countries updated on their deals. The new rules would also affect contracts between large energy companies if they form part of a wider intergovernmental agreement, Oettinger said.
The bloc already has a notification requirement for gas deals, but the new information sharing mechanism would go beyond the current rules and would extend them to all other energy sources, including renewables.
"This means the Commission will be aware before negotiations start and how negotiations are going," Oettinger said.
Such improved coordination will give the 27-country bloc more heft when dealing with energy-rich states like Russia, Azerbaijan, or Turkmenistan, the Commissioner added.
"If we have a common front vis-a-vis supplier countries, if we speak with one voice, I think we've got a completely different weight," Oettinger said. "Individual member states aren't able to achieve as much."
It would also make agreements more reliable for the other party, as the Commission could signal early on if deals risked breaking EU rules on the open internal market and competition, he added.
"Early involvement avoids a tricky repair at a subsequent stage," Oettinger said.
The mechanism needs approval from the European Parliament and member states, which have blocked similar attempts in the past, in the fear of losing their competitive edge when it comes to securing coveted supply deals.
While Oettinger stressed that existing contracts won't have to be changed under the proposed mechanism, the attempt to pull the bloc's external energy relations closer together comes just as several EU countries may have to re-negotiate energy deals with Libya.
The National Transitional Council has vowed to honor existing oil contracts but once a new government is in place countries and companies will likely be vying to sign new agreements.
"We need to really focus on countries that are going through political change: Egypt, Tunisia and Libya for that matter," Oettinger said. States in the region could also reach agreements for supplying Europe with solar energy, he added.
The EU currently exports some 60 percent of its gas and 80 percent of its oil and the Commission worries that getting enough supplies will become more difficult in the future as global demand for energy increases.