EU Russian gas contingency plan adds exemptions despite resistance

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PARIS — The governments of the European Union agreed on Tuesday on a plan to reduce the consumption of natural gas amid looming shortages, although after resistance from southern European countries the measures are more limited than originally expected.

The 27 member states will overall aim to reduce winter gas consumption by 15% compared to previous years, as they seek to maintain warmth in the coldest months and protect themselves from destabilizing import disruptions in originating from Russia.

But they introduced exemptions that could apply in a wide range of cases and were not part of the original plan. They also raised the bar to move from voluntary cuts to mandatory cuts.

The nations most opposed to the strict initial proposal – Spain and Portugal, supported by France and other countries – argued that uniform restrictions without exemptions would have been an illogical sacrifice, given that their economies are not dependent on Russian gas and they expect to have sufficient supplies. It is Germany – which ignored warnings and has become dependent on Russia for more than half of its gas supply – that stands to bear the greatest burden, they said.

“Unlike other countries, we Spaniards have not lived beyond our means from an energy point of view,” Spain’s Ecological Transition Minister Teresa Ribera Rodríguez said last week. in an apparent reference to Germany.

Russia’s Gazprom to cut gas to Germany as Putin stokes uncertainty in Europe

The dividing lines between northern and southern Europe are a recurring theme in European debates. But in this case, the usual power dynamics are reversed.

For years, the German political establishment has viewed itself as a cautious guardian of European economic and political stability. German officials have pushed for tough austerity measures in Spain, Greece and Portugal in the wake of financial and sovereign debt crises.

And sometimes they condemned the countries of the South for supposedly living off the hard-earned incomes of northern and central Europeans. Spaniards and Portuguese should stop napping and retire early, says German leader The politicians and commentators advised on several occasions.

Germany now finds itself in a very different position: criticized for acting irresponsibly with its longstanding dependence on Russian gas, and now in need of solidarity and leniency from nations that it sometimes does not have. supported only reluctantly.

EU urges gas rationing ahead of ‘likely’ Russian cut

Despite an effort to diversify its energy, Berlin remains at the mercy of Moscow’s whims. Tuesday’s meeting of EU energy ministers came a day after Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would cut natural gas through its main pipeline to Germany by half. Gazprom cited problems with one turbine, but German officials said they saw no legitimate reason for the reduction.

EU leaders argue that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using energy exports as leverage over countries that supported Ukraine during the war.

“Winter is coming, and we don’t know how cold it will be, but what we know for sure is that Putin will continue to play his dirty games,” Jozef Sikela, Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday. Industry and Commerce. Brussels.

The European Commission had hoped its initial rationing plan – with uniform 15% cuts – would fill any gaps left by a complete halt to Russian exports. But officials said Tuesday they don’t know how much gas will be saved with the exemptions in place.

And while the commission wanted to give itself the power to make gas rationing enforceable at short notice, the approval of a supermajority of national governments will now be required.

Hungary, which last week said it still wants buy more russian gaswas the only country to vote against the EU ration plan on Tuesday, according to two European officials.

Objections from southern Europe were different. The argument was that reducing gas consumption in Spain and Portugal would not help Germany and other countries facing shortages.

“Portugal, Spain and France are effectively isolated from the wider European market due to the limited connections between Spain and France, and France and the north and the east”, Ben McWilliams and Georg Zachmann, two research analysts from the economic policy think tank Bruegel, written in an analysis.

There are now only limited options for Spain and other countries to share excess gas with more affected European partners – for example, by re-routing Algerian gas from Spain to Italy, which also heavily dependent on Russian supplies, they wrote.

“We didn’t really foresee this situation – we didn’t imagine that Spain would suddenly become a huge exporter,” McWilliams said in an interview.

The agreement reached on Tuesday takes into account some of the issues that had been raised by Spain and its allies, granting exemptions to certain Member States which are not well connected to the gas networks of other Member States, and to countries which have high storage levels, among other factors.

Amid summer heatwave, Germany worries about having enough gas for winter

German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck admitted he could not rule out the possibility that some European countries might ignore the voluntary target set on Tuesday, but added that he remained optimistic.

“A lot will depend on how cold the winter is,” he said. “But a lot has already changed.”

Germany began to cut consumption wherever it could. Some landlords are rationing hot water, which has been turned off in many public buildings, while lights have been dimmed and public fountains stand still.

Habeck said his ministry had been “overwhelmed with ideas” on how to reduce gas consumption.

“It won’t be different in other countries,” he speculated.

Aries reported from Brussels. Loveday Morris in Berlin contributed to this report.

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