European Commission lauds new non-Russian gas route
* Final investment decisions ensure Azeri supply routes
* Analysts say extra gas from Iran, Iraq a distant prospect
BRUSSELS Dec 16 (Reuters) - A new supply route to pump Central Asian natural gas to the European Union could eventually meet up to a fifth of EU needs, the European Commission said on Tuesday.
The Commission, the EU executive, is eager to curb dependence on dominant supplier Russia, with which ties have been frayed by disputes over gas transit nation Ukraine and legal issues.
Part of Europe's strategy to diversify is a route it labels the Southern Corridor, which was shored up on Tuesday with final investment decisions that enable planned pipelines to go ahead to transport Azeri gas via Turkey into the EU.
"Through its further enlargement, the corridor will have the potential to meet up to 20 percent of the EU's gas needs in the long term," European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in a statement.
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "This is a major milestone for the diversification of our energy supplies, to the benefit of European consumers and businesses."
From around 2019, Azerbaijan's giant Shah Deniz II is expected to supply 16 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year to Europe, including 6 bcm for Turkey.
The gas will be shipped across Turkey and eventually into Italy through the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) that will link to the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), whose partners include BP and Statoil.
Extra gas through the Southern Corridor could one day come from Iraq and Iran, Commission sources have said, but analysts say that is a remote prospect.
Gas shipments via Ukraine have been the focus of EU and Russian anxiety for years and especially since 2009, when a pricing dispute with Russia led to a cut-off of gas supplies to EU customers.
Since then, Europe has sought new suppliers and to bring Ukraine into its orbit, while Russia has fought to retain its influence over Kiev and to build alternative supply routes to safeguard deliveries to its European customers.
The Commission has said it does not oppose Russia's plans to diversify its supply routes, bypassing Ukraine, but says they have to conform with EU law and are far from doing so.
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