EU parliament votes to improve cooperation between member nations on gas supply

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union parliament approved a plan Tuesday to improve cooperation between its members so nations that face gas shortages won't have to worry about freezing homes during the winter.

The 27-nation EU decided it needed new rules after thousands of homes went without heat and some power plants shut down early in 2009 when gas stopped flowing through pipelines from Russia.

EU officials complained that Europeans were being held hostage in a payment dispute between Russia and Ukraine, and have now worked out what they say are better ways to cooperate and respond to such a crisis.

The legislature, meeting in Strasbourg, France, approved the measure by a vote of 601-27, with 23 abstentions. It is expected to get final approval from member states early next month.

Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger called it "a major step forward to ensure that every household has gas even in the event of gas supply disruptions."

If there are disruptions during winter, the EU Commission would be called on to make sure sufficient gas is available throughout the EU. Member states and gas companies must set up emergency plans and look beyond their national borders to promote solidarity throughout the EU.

The rules will improve gas storage and assure gas can flow in any direction as needs arise.

"People in the EU won't have to worry that much about cold homes in winter," said socialist parliamentarian Norbert Glante.

The EU executive says the bloc could double gas storage by 2015.

One quarter of the EU's energy comes from natural gas, almost 60 percent of it imported. Russia provides two-fifths of these gas imports, most of that passing through Ukraine. The EU's eight eastern European members depend on Russia for more than three quarters of their gas.

Other major gas suppliers are Norway, Libya and Algeria.