* Leaders seek detailed plan by June on reducing reliance
* Officials believe even small reduction would send signal
* U.S. gas is one way to reduce imports of Russian oil, gas
By Barbara Lewis and Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, March 21 European Union leaders on
Friday discussed accelerating moving energy supplies away from
Russia, saying Moscow's annexation of Crimea made them more
determined to reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas.
The EU has made progress in improving its energy security
after gas crises in 2006 and 2009, when rows over unpaid gas
bills between Kiev and Moscow led to the disruption of supplies
to western Europe. However, it has not managed to reduce
Russia's share of European energy supplies.
While any Russian supply outage would have less impact than
before, Russia provides around one third of the EU's oil and
gas. Some 40 percent of the gas is shipped through Ukraine.
"It is all about making the EU stronger as a whole versus
energy exporters," Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk said as
he arrived for the second day of the summit in Brussels where
leaders dedicated the morning to energy issues.
Leaders are expected to call on the European Commission, the
EU executive, to draw up detailed proposals by June on how to
diversify away from Russia in the short and long term.
Europe has increased the share of renewable energy to around
15 percent and has improved infrastructure and introduced a raft
of legislation, which is beginning to take effect.
Accelerated procedures, for instance, can put an end to
planning battles that can drag on for years, allowing facilities
for processing liquefied natural (LNG) gas shipped from all over
the world to be speeded through.
Leaders are pushing for a focus on near-term solutions as
well as continuance of the longer process of reducing Europe's
energy dependence, which has been rising rather than falling.
EU statistics office Eurostat's energy dependence indicator,
showing the extent to which EU relies on imports crept up to
65.8 percent in 2012 from 63.4 percent in 2009.
The share of Russian gas rose to around 30 percent from 22
percent in 2010, while Russia's oil imports accounted for around
35 percent of EU use.
Denmark has led a call to ask the European Commission by
June to deliver a detailed plan of action and Britain has
circulated its vision of longer-term measures.
Meanwhile, France and Britain are leading efforts to
convince the United States to agree to export more U.S. natural
gas to Europe as part of ongoing trade talks with the United
States, or even before they are agreed.
Analysts are very cautious about how much U.S. gas could
make it to Europe as higher Asian prices are a bigger lure, but
wherever it is shipped, it would have an effect, freeing up more
Middle Eastern supplies from Qatar for instance.
"What better opportunity for the United States to extend
their influence. It is attractive for political reasons, not
necessarily economic ones," said one EU official close to the
SENDING A SIGNAL
While EU leaders seek to draw up their plans, hurting
Moscow, which gets around $5 billion euros per month from its
gas exports to Europe, is also at the forefront of EU leaders'
Although the Baltic nations and Bulgaria are among the
countries most heavily reliant on Russian gas, Germany is one of
those that imports the highest volumes.
It has been a very loyal customer and Russia's Nord Stream
pipeline, specifically built to bypass Ukraine, ships Russian
gas directly to Germany.
But even in Germany the rhetoric is shifting. A senior
member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc, Michael
Fuchs, told Reuters the decisive question in the debate about
sanctions is what would really hurt Russia.
"It could really hit Russia if Germany were to buy less gas
and oil. A couple of percentage points less would send out an
important signal," he said.
Europe's focus on Ukraine has pushed down the agenda
attempts to agree a wider climate and energy framework for 2030
to replace existing energy goals, which expire in 2020.
A draft document sets a deadline of October for reaching a
final deal, disappointing those saying an earlier agreement is
vital to give investors in low-carbon energy confidence.
The renewable energy lobby says the Ukraine crisis has
strengthened the case for setting a strong target to use more
renewables. Others, however, are pushing for nuclear, coal or
shale gas, which could also help the EU to become more energy
(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in London, Jan
Strupczewski, Luke Baker, Andreas Rinke, Martin Santa in
Brussels and John Irish in Paris, editing by David Evans)