EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Russian Energy Minister Victor Krishtenko have met in Brussels ahead of the EU-Russia Summit and announced a joint EU-Russia expert group to discuss the ‘reciprocity clause’ that was included in the European Commission’s September energy liberalisation proposals.

The meeting and the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue, which will convene again on 26 October 2007, are designed to discuss cooperation between the two sides’ energy markets. The reciprocity clause, which would protect EU energy infrastructure from control by non-EU countries, now threatens to upset the Dialogue.

The EU is Russia’s main trading partner for energy and is dependent on Russia for 25 per cent of its oil and gas consumption. “Russia and the European Union are important strategic partners and it is in both our interests to strengthen this relationship further. A true EU-Russia strategic energy partnership should provide long-term certainty, security and predictability for both sides,” said Commissioner Piebalgs ahead of the meeting.

The reciprocity clause – dubbed the Gazprom clause in Brussels – has caused anger in Moscow as it appears to be aimed at preventing Russian energy giants such as Gazprom from acquiring energy assets in the EU. A number of European energy firms have voiced frustration at being unable to acquire energy assets in Russia.

The proposed clause would oblige foreign firms to unbundle their energy production and transmission activities if they want to obtain a controlling stake in European energy companies. Now a special group has been established to discuss the clause and its impact.

Krishtenko said his government will await the outcome of the discussions before adopting a formal position on the proposal, but he has personally expressed doubts that electricity and gas network unbundling should be dealt with in the same way.