EU's gas crisis plan clears penultimate hurdle
* European Parliament approves gas security plan
* New flexibility for declaring "Community Emergency"
* Halves costly provision to deal with 60 day gas cut
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, Sept 21 (Reuters) - European plans forcing countries to prepare for future gas crises were approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday, but not for a 60-day supply cut as originally envisaged. The EU aims to reduce the risks from a possible repeat of last year's gas crisis, when a pricing dispute between Russia and transit country Ukraine cut gas supplies to Europe during three weeks of freezing weather.
Gas is now flowing normally, but policymakers have not forgotten numerous scares including the January 2009 crisis and Russia's invasion of Georgia in August 2008, when armour came worryingly close to energy transit pipes.
The European Commission originally wanted member states to prepare for 60-day supply cuts during winter weather, but that costly demand has been gradually eroded during 14 months of negotiations and the provision now stands at 30 days.
The Commission's proposal must now get final approval from EU member countries, which have been reluctant to cede control of energy supplies.
Those same countries approved a similar directive for oil in June 2009, but not before removing most of its powers.
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the current proposal was up to the task of protecting European citizens.
"This regulation is a major step forward to ensure that every household has gas, even in the event of gas supply disruptions," he said in a statement.
Under the gas security overhaul, the European Commission originally proposed it would declare a "Community Emergency" if the EU lost more than 10 percent of its gas imports.
But after negotiators examined various numbers, they finally threw them all out, handing the Commission the power to declare a Union-wide gas crisis or a regional crisis any time one country has declared its own national gas emergency.
If two or more countries declare such an emergency, the Commission is obliged to elevate it to at least the level of regional crisis, at which point a number of solidarity measures kick in.
Member States will need to ensure that even if their biggest source of gas or a large part of the network fails, the remaining network is diversified enough to find supplies elsewhere.
Parliament adopted the draft regulation by 601 votes in favour and 27 against. (Reporting by Pete Harrison; Editing by Alison Birrane)
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