“We will burn everything we can to keep our citizens warm” this winter, says Czech ambassador
The priorities of the Czech EU Presidency on energy and the environment are clear: the focus will be on energy security and breaking the EU’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels , an objective considered in Prague as more urgent than the ecological transition.
“We basically have a repeat of the oil shock of 1973”said Vaclav Bartuška, the Czech Roving Ambassador for Energy Security.
“If there is a gas cut this winter, we will burn everything we can to keep our citizens warm and to generate electricity”he added.
Mr Bartuška spoke to journalists in Brussels ahead of the start of the Czech EU Presidency, which begins on July 1 for a six-month period.
The Czech Republic will succeed France, whose six-month mandate at the head of the European Union expires on July 1, as head of the Council of the EU.
During its presidency, Prague intends to push forward the implementation of the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan presented in May, which aims to reduce Russian gas imports by two thirds before the end of the year.
This plan also emphasizes energy savings and accelerating the transition to renewable and low-carbon energy sources, in order to reduce the Union’s dependence on gas Russian.
In its programme, the Czech Presidency indicates that the emphasis will be “especially on the thorough implementation of the main short-term objective, namely the elimination of dependence on Russian fossil fuels”“.
According to Bartuška, diversification of gas supply can be achieved if European buyers can sign long-term contracts, which must be approved by Brussels. “We spoke to potential LNG suppliers and they all wanted long-term contracts, 20 or 15 years, but most of them 20 years”did he declare.
And although the European Commission has been reluctant about long-term contracts in the past, the EU executive is now open to them, Bartuška said. “You wouldn’t have heard that from the commissioner a year ago, or six months, or four months ago. There is a clear understanding from them that member states have to survive, governments have to survive the winter”he told EURACTIV.
“No slowing down” of ecological objectives
But as the EU’s focus shifts to energy security, some fear that Prague is abandoning the EU’s climate agenda and shelving the ‘Fit for 55’ legislative package, which aims to cut half the EU’s emissions by 2030.
“As for the ‘Fit for 55’ package, you won’t see any slowdown from us, simply because we think it’s going to happen, much faster than we thought”said Mr. Bartuška.
According to the Czech Roving Ambassador, the energy transition is already underway, and current energy prices and political pressure will accelerate the achievement of EU climate goals.
“Many decisions are made by people themselves”he noted. “Do you think people are going to buy gas heaters right now? Probably not “ he added, noting the“huge increase”the number of heat pumps and solar collectors installed in the Czech Republic after February.
“The transition will be difficult and complicated, but we will win. And the winners will be green technologies. It will just take a little time and in five years we will be wondering deep down why we burned natural gas to generate electricity”.
“God only knows what will happen”
In response to a question about the legislative files that the Czech Presidency intends to carry out, the ambassador remained evasive, saying that it will also depend on the speed at which the European Parliament progresses.
In a surprise vote earlier this month, the EU assembly rejected a proposal to reform the European carbon market, sending lawmakers back to their table to try to find a compromise.
“God only knows what will happen next”said Mr. Bartuška.
The EU’s main objective over the next few months will be to ensure sufficient gas supplies as the winter heating season approaches. The efforts of the Czech Presidency in this context will be focused on filling gas reservoirs and promoting joint gas purchases, he said.
The Czechs also see nuclear energy as a means of ensuring EU energy security and achieving the Union’s climate goals.
But what the Czech Presidency will be able to achieve will largely depend on geopolitical developments and the situation in Ukraine.
“As for Ukraine, we don’t know if we will hopefully send reconstruction teams in the next six months or even weapons”Bartuška told reporters.
“We don’t know if we will be able to meet the timetable agreed at Versailles in March this year, which is to phase out Russian oil and gas and everything else by 2027. Or if Russia will cut the gas before winter, during winter or at any other time”he added.
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