France wants Europe to set up a central gas purchasing body to strengthen its negotiating hand with suppliers, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

"I will not back down on the need to have a real energy policy," Sarkozy said in a speech in southern France setting out his policies ahead of next month`s European elections.

"I want to introduce the idea of a central gas buying body so that Europe has a really strong negotiating position opposite its suppliers."

The European Union is dependent on Russia for around a quarter of its gas, and its supplies have been threatened twice in the past three years following disputes between Moscow and key European energy transit countries Georgia and Ukraine.

This has prompted calls from some industry leaders for strategic changes in EU-wide energy policy and investment, from adding storage capacity to building new gas pipelines.