The European Union and four countries from Central Asia and the Middle East signed a declaration Friday for closer cooperation in developing alternative energy resources and routes that would reduce the EU's dependency on Russia.
Officials of Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia and Turkey signed the joint declaration on the so-called Southern Corridor, but representatives of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, who also attended the meeting, did not.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters that the Southern Corridor initiative is a strategic way for the EU to enhance its energy security by diversifying its energy resources and routes.
During the meeting, the partner countries and the EU agreed on a common strategy and a clear scheduling on the completion of projects within the southern corridor, including the trans-Caspianlink, Barroso said.
Producer countries have committed to dedicating specific volumes of gas for the corridor and the EU with a precise timetable for its availability, Barroso said.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolnek, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said Friday's declaration marked a "breakthrough" in the EU's efforts to diversify its energy supplies.
He said the EU now needs specific projects to flesh it out. "We will need financing from public and private sectors to get this on the road," he said.
Topolanek said Russia has expressed its concern about the southern corridor project, which it sees as a sort of threat to its own energy supply.
"Russia is not over-excited about this, but they have to accept that we need to diversify our energy sources," he said.
Representatives of Russia, the United States and Ukraine participated in Friday's meeting as observers.
The EU has been working for years on the idea of building a southern corridor that would reduce its reliance on Russian gas, which currently represents a quarter of all the gas consumed in the 27-member bloc.