European ministers called Tuesday for a "new partnership" with Russia to secure EU energy imports, after Moscow's natural gas war with Ukraine hit the bloc's supplies in January.
Europe is hopeful that it can make a deal with Russia over energy
The energy ministers, meeting in Brussels, want to persuade Russia to finally ratify the Energy Charter Treaty -- which sets the rules for the international energy trade -- as a sign of goodwill for the future.
"We need a new energy partnership with Russia," said Austrian Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein, who chaired the meeting as current EU president. "Ideally we would want to avoid the sort of things that happened at the beginning of this year or at least be able to defuse and resolve them quickly," he told reporters.
Russia meets around 20 percent of the natural gas needs of Europe -- the world's second largest energy market -- and fears have grown about a dependency on those supplies since the gas conflict during a particularly tough winter. The crisis reduced the volume of gas piped to western Europe across the former Soviet state, exposed weaknesses in the Union's energy policy and highlighted the powerful influence resources can have on foreign policy.
"In terms of external relations, with big partners such as Russia, it is important that we see the development of a European strategy," said British Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks.
The EU and Russia began an "energy dialogue" in 2000 on a number of issues, including energy supply, power grids and research, but an EU official said the idea now was for the dialogue to transform into concrete measures.
"Europe and Russia are energy interdependent"
During their talks, the ministers refined the principles on which they want to build the new energy ties with Russia but gave no concrete details about how things could change. In a new energy policy document, they pledged to try to convince Russia to ratify the energy treaty and reinforce their contacts with other energy suppliers, as well as consumers.
EU chief Barroso meets Russian President Putin on Friday
Moscow has signed the treaty, which essentially sets the rules for energy international cooperation, but has so far declined to ratify it, although it does apply the document provisionally.
"If Russia were to sign up to that, it would be an important signal that they will do everything they can to promote a sustainable and transparent supply of energy," said Bartenstein.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
The ministers also discussed the EU executive's new green paper, which urges them to speak with one voice on energy.
"Europe and Russia are energy interdependent, and the message that I will take to Moscow is that on energy, as in many other areas where we have common interests, we must maximize our cooperation," Barroso said last week.
A giant inflatable dinosaur with a car and a factory in its jaws was set up in front of the European Council headquarters where the meeting was held on Tuesday
"At this stage, it's not a formal negotiation aimed at coming up with any precise result," his spokesman explained on Tuesday.
Moscow warns Europe
The visit coincides with a meeting of Group of Eight energy ministers in Moscow.
With Barroso's brief in hand and the conclusions from Tuesday's meeting, EU leaders are expected to take the first real step since the Russia-Ukraine crisis to strengthen Union policy when they meet in Brussels late next week.
In Moscow on Monday, the deputy head of Russian energy giant Gazprom warned the EU to get its own house in order and ensure demand predictability.
"When you talk about energy security without security of demand you are talking about an abstract problem," said Alexander Medvedev. "It's a two-way street. You can't have security for pedestrians without security for drivers."