Dhe EU countries have initiated the decision-making process for an emergency plan to curb gas consumption. At a special meeting of the ministers responsible for energy on Tuesday in Brussels, the necessary majority for the step came together, as confirmed by the Czech EU Council Presidency. The plan aims to reduce the risks that could arise from a complete disruption to Russian gas supplies.
According to the text of the ordinance, which the dpa news agency reported, the plan, as proposed by the EU Commission, envisages a voluntary reduction in national consumption by 15 percent in the period from August 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023. In addition, the possibility should be created to trigger a Union alarm in the event of far-reaching supply bottlenecks and to set binding savings targets.
Compared to the Commission’s first draft, however, there are significantly more possible exceptions and the hurdles for the introduction of binding savings targets have also been increased. The latter should only be able to be enforced by the Council of Member States and not by the EU Commission. In concrete terms, this means that a Commission proposal for binding savings targets needs the approval of a group of 15 of the 27 EU countries. In addition, these must together make up at least 65 percent of the total population of the Union.
Exceptions for Cyprus, Malta and Ireland
Derogations should provide, for example, that countries such as Cyprus, Malta and Ireland should not be obliged to save gas as long as they are not directly connected to the gas network of another member state. In other countries, for example, efforts to store gas, an impending electricity crisis and the consumption of gas as a raw material for the production of fertilizers, for example, should be able to reduce the mandatory savings.
The current Czech EU Council Presidency justified the many exemptions on Tuesday on the fringes of the energy ministers’ meeting. “Different states are in different positions,” said the Minister responsible, Jozef Sikela. For example, in some countries there were no connection lines and some countries still had to do a lot to fill the gas storage facilities sufficiently for the winter. Before the vote, Hungary and most recently three other member states had expressed major reservations.
Germany supports the emergency plans as one of the countries that are currently still heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies. Economics Minister Robert Habeck is expected to attend the special meeting on behalf of the federal government. The Greens politician accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of a “perfidious game” on Monday evening because of the announced further reduction in gas supplies. Putin is trying to weaken the great support for Ukraine and to drive a wedge in German society. In return, he stirs up uncertainty and drives up prices. There are no technical reasons for the delivery cuts.
“Europe must be prepared for the worst case scenario”
The Russian gas company Gazprom had just announced that it would reduce deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline from the current 40 percent to 20 percent of maximum capacity. Only 33 million cubic meters of gas should then flow through the most important supply pipeline to Germany every day. The reason given by the Russian side was the repair of another turbine. From Berlin it was then said that there were no technical reasons for the reduction in deliveries – the reason was therefore pretended.
Against this background, Economics Minister Habeck once again emphasized the seriousness of the situation on Monday evening. “We are in a serious situation. It’s about time that everyone understood that,” he said on ARD’s “Tagesthemen”. Germany must reduce gas consumption. “We’re working on that.” The measures would have to be implemented consistently. The country must stand together and say: “Yes, Putin has the gas, but we have the power.” He described Gazprom’s reference to the turbine as “farce stories” that simply weren’t true.
Von der Leyen recently pointed out that Russia is already only delivering gas in part or not at all in twelve member states. “That’s why Europe has to be prepared for the worst case scenario: a complete stop to gas supplies, sooner or later,” she told the German Press Agency.
Von der Leyen countered critics of her emergency plans that the effects of a Russian supply freeze on all EU countries would be enormous – no matter how much gas they actually get from Russia. “Even member states that hardly purchase Russian gas cannot escape the consequences of a possible delivery stop in our internal market,” she explained.