BRATISLAVA A top European Commission official said on Friday European Union members would be asked within days to give the bloc's executive a mandate to negotiate with Russia over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has bitterly divided the bloc.
The planned 9.5 billion euro (8.28 billion pounds) pipeline project has led to a split between Eastern European and Baltic Sea states who fear it will increase their dependence on Russian gas and undermine Ukraine's role from Germany and other beneficiaries in northern Europe who back the plan.
In a letter addressed to Denmark and Sweden on March 28, the Commission said it was inviting all EU states to voice their concerns and would seek approval from EU energy ministers to negotiate an agreement with Moscow.
Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maros Sefcovic said he hoped to get backing from all member states and Russia's cooperation to negotiate plans for the pipeline, which will pump more gas along an existing route to Europe via the Baltic Sea to Germany.
"We are finalising the draft mandate, we need a few days (...) and will present it to member states as the best tool for this politically sensitive project, which has polarised attitudes among member states, and represents a legal challenge because of colliding European and Russian law," Sefcovic told Reuters on the sidelines of the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum.
"I believe we will get backing from all member states because most objections they have raised in negotiations have been taken into account."
Russian state gas exporter Gazprom (GAZP.MM), which supplies around a third of the EU's gas, with much coming via Ukraine, is keen for Nord Stream 2 to be built by 2019, when it must renegotiate gas transit fees with Kiev.
But the Commission and German regulators are at odds over whether EU law should apply to the pipeline.
"I believe Germany will support this mandate as it said it wanted the transit via Ukraine to be maintained and possible negative impacts of the project to be neutralised," Sefcovic said.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; editing by Alexander Smith)