Austria summons EU envoy for calling Russian gas payments 'blood money'

EU Commission Secretary-General Selmayr attends a weekly college meeting of the EU executive in Brussels

VIENNA (Reuters) -Austria's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it was summoning the European Commission's envoy to the country for reportedly criticising the slow pace at which Austria is weaning itself off Russian gas and saying it was paying "blood money" for the fuel.

Martin Selmayr, a German EU official who was the powerful chief of staff to the Commission's then-President Jean-Claude Juncker until 2018, made the comments at an event in Vienna on Wednesday evening, according to Austrian news agency APA.

"Oh my god, 55% of Austrian gas continues to come from Russia," APA quoted Selmayr as saying. He expressed astonishment at the lack of protests over Austria's gas payments helping fund Russia's invasion of Ukraine, adding: "Blood money is being sent daily to Russia."

The European Commission later issued a statement criticising Selmayr.

"The Commission distances itself from the regrettable and inappropriate statements made by the head of the representation office in Austria," it said. "The Commission has asked (him) to report to Brussels immediately on this incident."

According to the latest Austrian government data, in June 60% of Austria's natural gas imports came from Russia, down from around 80% before the war but well above the lowest monthly figure since then, which stood at 21% in September last year.

"Mr Selmayr has been summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a meeting with the (ministry's) secretary-general," the ministry said in a statement, adding that Selmayr was currently out of the country but the meeting would take place on his return.

After decades of heavy reliance on cheap Russian gas sent by pipeline, Austria's coalition government of conservatives and left-wing Greens says it is shifting away from Russia as a gas supplier but that the country faces various obstacles, including the fact it is land-locked.

Other countries, such as neighbouring Germany, are increasing their capacity to import liquefied natural gas from other regions at their ports.

Austria's minister for European Union affairs, Karoline Edtstadler, said in a statement: "We can only overcome the challenges ahead of us by working closely together. Not only do thoughtless comments such as those reportedly made not contribute to that but they are unsound and counterproductive."

(Reporting by Francois MurphyAdditional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta in ParisEditing by Tomasz Janowski and Deepa Babington)