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Europe aims to cut 60 billion euros of oil, gas imports

By Pete Harrison

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's energy strategy could cut a total 60 billion euros ($81.5 billion) off the bloc's oil and gas imports over the next decade, a leaked document from the EU executive shows.

The 27-country EU could also reduce its wider dependence on commodity shipments from overseas in the hope of bolstering economies and security.

The draft, titled "Europe 2020," gives a preliminary view of the EU's strategy for economic growth, jobs and energy over the next 10 years. A final version will be unveiled on March 3 by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

"Meeting our energy goals could result in 60 billion euros less in oil and gas imports by 2020," said the draft, seen by Reuters on Tuesday. "This is not only financial savings -- this is essential for our energy independence."

Curbing dependence on fossil fuel imports became a priority for the EU in January last year when a price row between Moscow and Kiev led to a cut in Russian gas flowing through Ukraine's pipelines to Europe during two weeks of freezing weather.

Moscow's 2008 invasion of Georgia also came perilously close to key pipelines and highlighted Europe's import dependence.

The 27-country EU aims to improve energy efficiency by a fifth by 2020, and is on track to source around a fifth of its energy needs from domestic renewable sources such as the sun, wind and farm waste.

The new strategy goes beyond cuts to fossil fuels.

"We should aim to decouple growth from energy use and become a resource-efficient economy, which will not only give Europe a competitive advantage, but also reduce its dependency on foreign sources for raw materials and commodities," says the draft, which could still change.

It reiterates the EU's commitment to curbing the carbon emissions that most scientists blame for climate change, despite sluggish progress in U.N. talks on global warming. It predicts that the value of the market for low-carbon technology will triple over the next 20 years.

"The EU was largely a first mover in green solutions, but its advantage is being challenged by strong growth in other markets, notably China and North America," it said.

Most European environmentalists have welcomed the emergence of a "Europe 2020" strategy with green growth at its heart, but Green politician Claude Turmes said it fell short on concrete policy measures.

"The EU risks failing again on integrating environment into the general socio-economic policy," he said.

"This would not only be a waste of precious time to address the environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity losses, but will also fail to keep the EU leading in the global race for green technologies," Turmes added.

(Editing by Dale Hudson)

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