* Strategic projects should be approved in 3-1/2 years
* EU to decide next year on 'projects of common interest'
* Final approval still required to make rules law
BRUSSELS, Nov 28 The European Union has agreed
on a streamlined approval process to speed up strategic energy
pipelines and grids, the Commission, the EU's executive, said on
The draft law still requires the final approval of the
European Parliament and member states, which are expected to
decide on it early next year so it could come into force around
March or April.
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the political
agreement was already a major step forwards.
"This is really a breakthrough and will give a big push to
much-needed infrastructure," Oettinger said.
"Rather than waiting up to 12 years or longer for a permit,
developers of crucial cross-border infrastructure - such as
pipelines or power grids - will have a decision in about 4
The Commission had proposed permit-granting for crucial
infrastructure should not exceed three years, but a deal reached
on Tuesday had decided on a maximum timeframe of three years,
six months, the Commission said in a statement.
Environmental groups have raised concerns that faster
approvals could lead to infrastructure being placed in
environmentally sensitive areas.
But the Commission sees only advantages and says EU citizens
will still be given the chance to raise objections.
It says faster approvals will cut administrative costs, as
well as moving the bloc closer towards a single energy market.
The European Commission has said enforcing a single energy
market is a priority to encourage the equitable flow of power
and gas across borders to stimulate competition, help to reduce
prices and make supplies more secure.
To enforce it, it has been cracking down on member states
that have failed to enforce relevant law and it is also seeking
to spur huge amounts of investment in infrastructure that can
benefit more than one country.
The fast-track permitting rules will only apply to the most
strategic infrastructure, labelled "projects of common interest"
because they benefit more than one member state.
They could include, for instance, the proposed southern
corridor route to bring gas supplies from Azerbaijan and reduce
dependency on Russian gas.
The European Union is expected to decide on the projects of
common interest next year.
They could be entitled to funding from 9.1 billion euros
($11.75 billion) towards strategic energy infrastructure
proposed by the Commission as part of the bloc's seven-year
budget, which the European Union has so far failed to agree.
That compares with the estimated 200 billion euros the
Commission has said is needed to build gas pipelines and new
($1 = 0.7746 euros)
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; editing by James Jukwey)