European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson and Czech Minister of Industry and Trade Jozef Sikela at a press conference
The energy ministers of the European Union, meeting in Brussels, agreed on Tuesday to reduce their gas consumption in a coordinated way and thus fly to the aid of Germany, after the announcement of a further drastic drop in Russian deliveries.
The European Union confirmed today that it stands united and united. We have taken a huge step forward to secure gas supply this winter, said Czech Minister Jozef Sikela, whose country holds the rotating EU Council Presidency.
“We will share the burden. The negotiations were not easy, but in the end everyone understood that this sacrifice was necessary.
—Jozef Sikela, Czech Minister of Industry
Hungary, however, on Tuesday denounced an unjustifiable, unnecessary, unenforceable and harmful agreement. Among the Twenty-Seven, only Budapest opposed the text, which was therefore adopted by qualified majority.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, welcomed for its part the adoption of the plan which it had presented last week. Even though it has been thoroughly overhauled.
It still expects 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.
Russia accounted for some 40% of EU gas imports until last year.
In case of risk of a serious shortage, an alert mechanism will make the 15% reduction binding on 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 the countries in need, through a series of waivers.
This collective commitment is very significant and will help us to replenish stocks before winter, said Von der Leyen.
The Russian giant Gazprom announced on Monday that it would halve its daily deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream gas pipeline on Wednesday, falling to just 20% of its capacity, citing a maintenance operation on a turbine.
A Kremlin spokesman on Tuesday said the reduced flow was due to Western sanctions taken against Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. If it hadn't been for these restrictions, everything would have been accomplished […] within the usual time frame, without leading to the situation we see today, he said .
But the Europeans refute the technical motive and accuse Moscow of using gas as an economic weapon.
Employees clean the interior of the House of Culture damaged after night attacks in Kharkiv region, Ukraine .
Fighting continued in Ukraine on Tuesday, where southern regions came under heavy Russian bombardment targeting a seaside village near Odessa and the port of Mykolaiv, among others, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Reducing our gas consumption […] is the best way to react to Putin's gas blackmail, Luxembourg's Energy Minister Claude Turmes commented.
French Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, welcomed a good agreement.
“Our industrial production chains are completely interdependent. If chemicals cough in Germany, then the whole European industry can stop. »
— Agnès Pannier-Runacher, French Minister for Energy Transition
At the heart of the European system, the mandatory 15% reduction in consumption had drawn criticism. It aims to pool the effort in the event of an emergency to help Germany in particular.
Very dependent on Russian gas, Germany was still buying 35% of its gas from Russia at the beginning of June, a figure which had risen to 55% before the war.
However, a major shock to Europe's leading economy would inevitably have repercussions on all of the Twenty-Seven.
The 15% reduction in gas consumption in fact imposes constraints on countries such as France and Spain, which are nevertheless sheltered from a disruption in Russian supplies thanks to their energy policies. But the effort will remain greater for Germany.
It will have to do better than 15%, acknowledged its Minister of the Economy, Robert Habeck, while welcoming European solidarity. Berlin has made a strategic mistake in the past by cultivating this dependence on Moscow, he admitted.
According to Rome, the effort for Italy will be limited to a 7% reduction in its gas consumption, thanks to the exemptions.
The plan had in recent days come under heavy criticism from several states. Among the most virulent: the countries of southern Europe, including Spain, where the memory of the painful austerity plans imposed by Berlin after the financial crisis of 2008 is still vivid.
Spanish Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, considered the project unfair and inefficient.
Diplomats of the 27 took into account grievances. It will ultimately be the Council of the EU, representing the Member States, and not the Commission, as the latter demanded, which will trigger the binding mechanism.
The agreement provides exemptions for island states (Cyprus, Ireland, Malta), which are not interconnected to the gas networks of other countries, or for those which have exceeded their targets for filling gas tanks.
It also reduces the savings target for countries with limited interconnections or which need gas for certain critical industries.
All Member States have their own constraints which have been taken into account, welcomed the Maltese Minister, Miriam Dalli.