The European Union urged Russia and other neighbors Monday to commit to long-term energy contracts that will guarantee them customers and investments while securing affordable oil and natural gas supplies for the EU in the decades ahead.
The appeal, on the first day of a two-day conference of officials from the 25 EU nations and oil and gas exporting countries, underscored Western Europe's desire to make energy a top priority at a time when its demand is growing, its own supplies are dwindling and world prices are high.
Europe was ready to make "multibillion investments" in energy production and transport but wanted partner nations to commit to transparency and "stable, predictable and nondiscriminatory frameworks," said EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
In March, the executive European Commission is to unveil an energy policy that will commit the 25-nation EU to diversify energy sources, develop more renewables and boost energy savings while acknowledging it will continue to depend on often unstable, undemocratic nations to provide energy.
"The scramble for energy risks being pretty unprincipled," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "However we choose to deal with such regimes, others will put their energy needs above everything else."
World energy consumption is set to increase by well over 50 percent over the next 25 years, Solana told the conference. The EU is the world's largest importer and second largest consumer. It imports about half of its energy.
"Without policy reform, this will rise to 70 percent" over the next 25 years, said EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. He said the EU needs a new policy that "maintains Europe's competitiveness, safeguards our environmental objectives and ensures our security of supply."
Russia currently supplies a quarter of Europe's oil and over two-fifths of its gas.
European imports have fueled Russia's economic revival, while "the stable flow of reasonably priced energy has been an important factor underlying the EU's economic growth and well-being," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "It is this 'win-win' situation which both sides must work to reinforce."
The EU wants Russia and other producers to commit to fair trade in energy production and transit so as to secure investor confidence and guarantee safe long-term deliveries.
EU energy chief Andris Piebalgs said the EU was willing to increase co-operation with countries willing to open up energy markets, and that the bloc would help them secure funds from private banks and international financial donors to modernize their installations.
"In order to guarantee future supplies to the EU, we need to make multibillion investments into infrastructure projects _ in production, transit and distribution," he said.
EU-Russia relations are troubled by EU human rights complaints and Moscow's efforts to secure access to Russian oil and gas primarily for Russian companies. Plans for a new agreement on closer economic and political cooperation with Russia are threatened by a veto from Poland _ over energy supplies and a Russian ban on its meat exports.
The EU conference was attended by officials from Norway, Ukraine, Nigeria and Azerbaijan, and executives from energy companies Gazprom OAO, E.On Ruhrgas AG, Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP PLC.
EU leaders must decide by March how much power they will give to the commission to negotiate on their behalf. The commission sees clear benefits from taking charge of energy policy.
"We should ensure that we work together to get the best deal and the strongest energy security for all Europeans," said Ferrero-Waldner.
Associated Press writer Robert Wielaard in Brussels, Belgium contributed to this story.