EU energy ministers approve gas demand cuts after standoff with Brussels

EU energy ministers approve gas demand cuts after standoff with Brussels

European Union energy ministers on Tuesday (July 26) approved a plan to reduce gas consumption and prepare for possible disruptions to Russian gas supplies, after a standoff with the Commission to determine who can implement the binding targets.

Last week, Brussels presented its plan to reduce gas consumption by 15% between August 2022 and March 2023 for member states to ensure sufficient gas storage for this winter and next.

However, this plan met with resistance from member states. The proposal allowing the European Commission to transform the voluntary target of 15% into a binding target without consulting the 27 members of the bloc has been particularly decried.

Faced with this resistance, the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU reworked the text in order to make it more acceptable to member states and to regain power from the EU executive.

Hungary the only opponent to the plan

The new text was welcomed with 26 of the 27 countries voting in favour. Hungary was the only country to oppose the deal, reports EURACTIV Czech Republic.

Under the agreed text, the Commission would still propose the highest alert level, which would trigger the binding target, but member states would then vote to approve it. Second possibility: that at least five countries which have declared alerts at national level ask the European Commission to declare the alert at European level.

The directive also provides derogations from the binding target for island countries, such as Ireland and Malta, which are not connected to the Union’s gas network.

The exemptions also concern Member States which have synchronous electricity networks with countries outside the EU and which may need to supply their electricity production with gas in the event of an emergency desynchronisation.

Several derogations are also provided for EU Member States, including “whether they have exceeded their targets for filling gas tanks, whether they are heavily dependent on gas as a raw material for critical industries or whether their gas consumption has increased by at least 8% during the year elapsed compared to the average of the last five years”.

Czech Deputy Minister Jozef Sikela, however, clarified that these waivers would not affect general savings.

“It is understood that the sum of the derogations should not affect the target volume of gas saved”he told reporters when he arrived at the meeting.

Irish Minister Eamon Ryan meanwhile told reporters that although his country would benefit of the derogation taking into account the “physical reality”this did not prevent “the fundamental desire of each of us to reduce our consumption”.

“In the case of Ireland, although we are not physically connected, we are affected by the high prices and that is why it makes sense that we consume less”he continued.

A precarious situation in Europe

The meeting comes just a day after Gazprom announced a further cut in gas supplies to Germany, sparking fresh concerns about Europe’s energy security.

Gazprom’s announcement highlights “once again that we must be prepared for possible supply disruptions from Russia at any time”, said the European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson. To prepare, Europe must act now and collectively to preemptively reduce demand, she added.

Twelve EU member states have already faced full or partial disruptions to their Russian gas supply and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned that a full disruption of Russian gas supply was a “likely scenario”.

In this context, having high storage levels is essential to get through the winter and not to face difficulties when it comes to filling gas tanks for winter 2023, said Ms Simson in announcing the plan last week. last.

According to the European Commission, gas storage levels have reached 66%. But some member states still have a lot of work to do to reach the EU’s goal of filling its gas stocks to at least 80%, Mr Sikela said, adding that the Czech Republic has reached this goal yesterday.

Solidarity in gas supply

As Russian gas is increasingly cut off, many eyes are on Germany, which is highly dependent on Russian gas and has spent years strengthening its gas connections with Russia, including the construction of Nord Stream 2, which has aroused strong reactions from its eastern neighbors.

Speaking on the LCI set, Thierry Bros, professor of energy, climate and economics at Science-Po, said that “Germany is Europe’s weakest link”.

“Without European solidarity, Germany will suffer much more than all other European countries. With European solidarity, the whole EU will suffer. What will the 27 energy ministers choose? », he asked on Twitter.

Germany, Austria, Hungary and Italy are particularly vulnerable to Russian gas supply disruptions due to their heavy reliance on Russian deliveries.

However, despite the idea that solidarity could mean supporting Germany, many ministers present at the meeting stressed that it was necessary.

“Unity and solidarity are the best weapon we have against [Vladimir] Cheese fries “said Mr. Sikela.

As for Ms von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission welcomed the agreement, saying: “By acting together to reduce gas demand, taking into account all the relevant national specificities, the EU has laid the solid foundations for the essential solidarity between Member States in the face of the energy blackmail of [Vladimir] Cheese fries. »

Some countries still want to go further on Russian gas: the Polish and Estonian ministers have both reiterated their calls for a total ban on imports.

“If we make all the effort that is required, we are doing enough to make it through the winter. But for the future, it is of course essential to put an end to any dependence on Russian energy”said Estonian Minister Riina Sikkut.


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