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    Nord Stream gas project important to EU - European Commission

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    MOSCOW, November 18 (RIA Novosti) - The construction of the Nord Stream pipeline to pump Russian natural gas to Germany is important to the European Union, the head of the delegation of the European Commission to Russia said on Tuesday.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested last week that Europe should decide whether it needed the gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea at the proposed capacity or not.

    Marc Franco said the EU had never doubted the need to invest in the project, but warned that environmental regulations should be observed during its construction.

    The same idea was voiced by the Finnish prime minister at talks with Putin last Wednesday. Matti Vanhanen assured his Russian counterpart that Europe would need Russian natural gas supplies through the pipeline, but said Helsinki would consider the project based on ecological concerns and environmental legislation.

    Putin said Nord Stream had spent more than $100 million on environmental research for the pipeline project.

    Paul Corcoran, the chief financial officer of the Nord Stream project operator, said on Tuesday that the construction of the pipeline would begin in April 2010.

    He added the company had already applied for permission to Sweden, and was planning to submit similar applications with Denmark, Finland, Germany and Russia in December.

    The Nord Stream pipeline, which will pump gas from Siberia to Europe under the Baltic Sea, bypassing East European transit countries, is being built jointly by Russian energy giant Gazprom, Germany's E.ON and BASF, and Dutch gas transportation firm Gasunie at an estimated cost of $12 billion.

    The first stage of the project is expected to go online in the fourth quarter of 2011.

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