* EU signs cooperation deal with Caspian gas suppliers
* Deal on gas transit terms seen by end-June
* Deal envisions central EU gas-buying consortium
(Adds detail, quotes)
By Pete Harrison and David Brunnstrom
PRAGUE, May 8 The European Union moved to curb
its heavy dependence on Russian gas on Friday by signing an
agreement to smooth the way for more imports from the Caspian
In return for their commitment to supply gas to Europe, the
EU offered to provide more trade and stronger transport links to
gas transit countries such as Turkey and Azerbaijan, which form
a so-called "southern corridor".
The deal, signed by leaders from Europe, Azerbaijan, Turkey
and Georgia, envisions the creation of a central EU gas-buying
consortium and new terms for the transport of Caspian gas.
"Our strategic priority in the EU is to enhance energy
security, in particular by diversifying energy sources and
energy routes," said European Commission President Jose Manuel
Barroso. "The southern corridor initiative is a key priority
"Producer countries have committed to dedicating specific
volumes of gas supplies for the corridor and for the EU, with a
precise timetable for availability," Barroso added.
At the heart of the plan is a proposal to build the 3,300 km
Nabucco pipeline to carry Caspian gas via Turkey, Bulgaria,
Romania and Hungary to Austria.
But its commercial backers have only secured a fifth of the
gas needed to make the $10 billion pipeline viable.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country hosted
the meeting of in Prague, described the wider project as a "new
silk road" that would also aid the flow of information, goods
The 11 leaders and ministers at the summit agreed EU
countries and Turkey will sign an intergovernmental deal on
conditions for putting gas through Nabucco by the end of June --
a move that would remove one of the main uncertainties for
"We have the determination and we are ready," said Turkish
President Abdullah Gul. "There is no hesitation, so we can go
The EU has talked about diversifying its gas supplies for
decades, to no avail, but has strengthened its resolve since a
row between Russia and transit country Ukraine in January left
European homes unheated.
Simmering tensions with Moscow since Russia's brief war with
Georgia last August also added to the EU's determination.
"They are not overly excited about this project," Topolanek
said of Russia. "Any routes that lead outside Russia would, in
their view, threaten their own supplies."
The summit agreement called for progress on a Caspian
Development Corporation to act as a central EU gas-buyer -- a
move aimed at ending the bloc's long-running problems with
securing deals in the region.
European Investment Bank President Philippe Maystadt said
the bank has held funding talks with the consortium behind
Nabucco and those behind two other proposed pipelines to bring
Caspian gas to Europe -- the TAP pipeline into Hungary and ITGI
Maystadt said while the three projects were all focused on
carrying gas from Azerbaijan, there was not enough Azeri gas to
go around and some would need to find alternative sources.
"What is possible is that one project would go ahead faster
and this project could supply Azeri gas," he said.
"Other projects that came later would need to get gas from
Turkmenistan which would imply the creation of a link through
the Caspian Sea."
The summit agreement laid out plans to look further south
for new gas supplies, by seeking an energy memorandum with Iraq
as soon as possible and by helping Egypt develop its own export
For a FACTBOX on central and southern European energy
pipelines double click on [ID:nL71025626]
(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka; Writing by Pete
Harrison; Editing by Sophie Hares)