* Poland’s Tusk had proposed single buyer idea
* Many in Europe see it as anti-competitive
BRUSSELS/WARSAW, Feb 2 (Reuters) - European Union nations can only work together to buy natural gas, as part of efforts to reduce Russia’s negotiating power, on a voluntary basis, the EU’s energy boss said on Monday.
The idea that EU countries could join forces to try to negotiate more favourable gas contracts with Russia’s Gazprom was put forward last year by Poland’s then prime minister Donald Tusk.
Tusk has since taken up an EU job as president of the European Council.
On a visit to Warsaw, Maros Sefcovic, a vice-president in the European Commission, said many west European countries were opposed to the idea of working as a single EU gas buyer because they believed it breached competition and free-market rules.
The view was different in central and eastern Europe, where, he said, countries might be able to collaborate on a voluntary basis or in the event of a market failure or crisis.
But any negotiations based on “aggregation of demand” would have to be “in full respect of EU law and WTO (World Trade Organization) obligations”, he added.
Gazprom’s prices to Poland, which uses around 16 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually, are among the highest in Europe. Poland’s largest gas distributor PGNiG, seeking cheaper prices, launched talks with Gazprom last November.
The European Commission has made energy union, based on better energy connections to share out available supplies and reduced reliance on imports of fossil fuel, a priority.
Later this week, Latvia, holder of the EU presidency until the end of June, will hold a conference to kick off the debate ahead of official presentation later this month of the Commission’s vision of how energy union will work. (Reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw, editing by David Evans)