Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Sandro Gozi said the Italian government supported the South Stream project which envisages a 2,500km gas pipeline running from Russia to Italy.
“We think South Stream should go ahead, as it would improve the diversification of gas routes to Europe,” Gozi was quoted in EU Observer as saying.
The pipeline would bypass Ukraine, where the government is currently battling pro-Russian separatists, instead passing through Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia before reaching Italy.
Italy’s commitment to the project was endorsed by Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, who this week visited both Ukraine and Russia in her first trip abroad since Italy took over the EU presidency earlier this month.
While emphasising that South Stream needed to respect EU law, she described it as being “very important for the energy security of our country, as well as that of the entire European area.”
Russia provides an estimated 31 percent of the gas consumed in Italy.
Serbia has begun working on its stretch of the pipeline, but Bulgaria halted construction recently after the EU said the project breached competition rules.
Support from the Italian government has been criticized by Ukraine, which argues that Rome may be overstepping its mandate as EU president.
“The EU presidency should not put forward its national position, but the position of the EU as a whole. This project is not supported by all member states, so I have to ask the question whether Italy has coordinated its point of view with its other EU partners or not,” Konstantin Yeliseyev, Ukraine’s EU ambassador, was quoted in EU Observer as saying.
The comments from the Italian government were also met with criticism on social media, with Twitter users describing Italy’s position as “dreadful” and “risky”.
An analyst from the European Policy Centre said greater dependence on Russian gas went against the EU’s strategic interests.
While another Twitter user said Mogherini’s statement may limit her chances of being named the bloc’s foreign minister later this month.