Gas savings: EU reaches agreement to help Germany

The energy ministers of the European Union, meeting in Brussels, agreed on Tuesday to reduce their gas consumption in a coordinated manner. They are thus flying to the aid of Germany, after a new drastic drop in Russian deliveries.

“It was not an impossible mission! The ministers reached a political agreement on reducing gas demand in anticipation of next winter,” the Czech EU Presidency announced on its Twitter account.

Read also: ‘Unprecedented’ level of uncertainty reigns over energy supply

The plan, proposed last week by the Commission, has been thoroughly revised, but its main principles are preserved. It still provides for each country to do “everything possible” to reduce, between August 2022 and March 2023, its gas consumption by at least 15% compared to the average of the last five years over the same period.

In the event of a “risk of serious shortage”, an alert mechanism will make the 15% reduction “binding” for the Twenty-Seven. But this objective will be adapted to the realities of each country, in particular the capacities to export the quantities of gas saved to countries in need, thanks to a series of exemptions.

“United and united”

The Russian giant Gazprom announced on Monday that it would drastically reduce its daily deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream gas pipeline to 33 million m3 from Wednesday, citing the need for maintenance of a turbine.

“The EU is united and united. Today’s decision made it clear that member states will oppose any Russian attempt to divide the EU by using energy supplies as a weapon,” said Czech Energy Minister Jozef Sikela, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Also read: Nord Stream: the gas is flowing again but the showdown continues

“The adoption of the proposal (…) in record time has undoubtedly strengthened our common energy security. By saving gas now, we will be better prepared. Winter will be much cheaper and easier for EU citizens and industry,” he said.

An “unenforceable” agreement, according to Hungary

“Reducing our gas consumption (…) is the best way to react to Putin’s gas blackmail,” commented his Luxembourg counterpart, Claude Turmes. Among the 27, only Hungary opposed the text, which must be adopted by qualified majority.

For its part, the country denounced an “unenforceable” agreement shortly after the meeting. “It is an unjustifiable, unnecessary, unworkable and harmful proposal that completely ignores national interests,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters.

At the heart of the European system, the binding 15% reduction in consumption had aroused criticism. It aims to pool the effort in the event of an emergency to help Germany in particular, which is very dependent on Russian gas. A major shock to Europe’s leading economy would inevitably have repercussions on all of the Twenty-Seven. Hence the need for solidarity.

In fact, it imposes constraints on countries like France and Spain, which are nevertheless sheltered from a break in Russian supplies thanks to their energy policies.

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“Germany has made a strategic mistake in the past” by cultivating this dependence on Moscow and the government is working hard to remove it, acknowledged German Minister Robert Habeck, while asking for European solidarity. “Now we have to solve this together,” he said.

Critics, especially from Spain

The plan had in recent days been the subject of strong criticism from several states. Among the most virulent: the countries of southern Europe, including Spain. The memory of the painful austerity plans imposed by Berlin after the 2008 financial crisis is still vivid there.

Spanish Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera denounced a lack of consultation by the Commission and deemed the plan “unfair” and “ineffective”.

The diplomats of the 27 took this into account. It will ultimately be the Council of the EU, representing the Member States, and not the Commission, as the latter requested, which will decide on the possible implementation of the binding targets.

The agreement provides exemptions for states, particularly island states, which are not interconnected with the gas networks of other countries or for those which have exceeded their gas reservoir filling targets. It also reduces the savings target for countries whose interconnections are limited or which need gas for certain “critical industries”.

Read also: Russian gas: in a position of strength, Italy intends to refuse the rationing proposed by the EU to spend the winter

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