* Government approves no support for single EU body
* Could support private groups joining up for purchases
* Backs aim to spend more on gas infrastructure
(Adds approval by the government, industry minister quotes)
By Robert Muller
PRAGUE, May 21 The Czech Republic opposes a
Polish proposal to create a single body to buy gas for the
European Union but could support private groups voluntarily
joining up for purchases, according to a position document
approved by the government on Wednesday.
Central European countries are vulnerable to any
interruption in supplies because they take most of their natural
gas from Russia, mainly via Ukraine.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has called for the EU to
create an energy union because the current dependence on Russian
energy makes Europe weak. He said on Wednesday Europe's failure
to complete a single energy market and to unite when negotiating
gas contracts with Russia costs around 30 billion euros ($41
billion) per year.
"The government approved our position on that proposal,
which says we support our Polish colleagues on many issues, but
there are many that we have to look at a bit more," state
secretary for EU affairs Tomas Prouza told the Czech radio.
The approved position paper said the Czech Republic did
generally "not support the creation of one body in the EU
responsible for buying oil and gas".
"However, it is possible to support the creation of a
mechanism to aggregate demand on a voluntary basis, i.e. the
possibility of joining together private entities active in
member states," said the paper obtained earlier by Reuters.
The paper said the country should support efforts to raise
energy security of Central Europe, and backed a Polish call for
funding of new infrastructure from the EU's Connecting Europe
Facility, a fund for energy, transport and digital networks.
The news comes as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on
Wednesday the development of a secure, diverse and
interconnected energy market would be the next step of European
integration as the continent seeks to diminish its dependence on
The Czech Republic supports the strengthening of investments
in gas interconnectors.
Central European countries have already built several
interconnectors between their pipeline systems and enabled
reverse flow of gas. They are planning more connections to
enable them to find alternative sources of gas if needed.
"In principle, we view the Polish initiative positively. The
Czech government is ready to support north-south interconnection
of gas pipelines," Industry Minister Jan Mladek told reporters.
"It is a long-term intention. It would increase long-term
independence of the Czech Republic from gas supplies from
Prime ministers from central European countries agreed last
week to draft joint crisis management plans for the possibility
of a cut in natural gas from Russia in the coming months.
Russia provides around one third of the EU's oil and gas. It
shook the international community with its military intervention
and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March.
European leaders have agreed to accelerate their quest for
more secure energy supplies and asked the European Commission to
draw up detailed proposals by June on how to do that.
A draft Commission document seen by Reuters showed this week
member states should conduct stress tests before winter to work
out how vulnerable they would be in the event the crisis over
Ukraine leads to a major disruption of natural gas supplies.
(Additional reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Dale Hudson
and David Evans)