As Europe prepares for a winter of uncertain supply from its primary gas supplier, Russia, European Union members are attempting to soften the bloc’s plan to require them to use less gas.
The European Commission proposed last week that each of the EU’s 27 member nations reduce their gas consumption by 15% from August to March. The objective would be optional, but the Commission may make it mandatory in the event of a gas supply crisis. more info
Brussels has asked countries to reduce gas consumption now in order to assist fill storage tanks ahead of winter, and has warned that a complete cut-off of Russian gas is likely. However, the EU plan has been met with opposition from a wide range of nations, with some outright opposed to obligatory cuts and others unwilling to let Brussels oversee domestic energy consumption.
On Monday, EU diplomats were debating a revised proposal before their energy ministers attempted to reach an agreement on it on Tuesday.
The plan, seen by Reuters, would maintain the voluntary target for all countries to reduce gas use while offering a variety of exemptions to the binding target, thus indicating that countries would face varied mandatory goals.
Some EU diplomats praised the current idea as the foundation for a compromise, while others expressed concern that with so many exclusions, Europe would not be able to stockpile enough gas to go through the winter if Russia reduced supplies.
According to one diplomat, the goal is to guarantee that countries show solidarity by committing to act together, but also ensuring that the idea does not become “a tiger without the teeth”
Countries without ties to EU gas networks, such as Ireland and Malta, would be exempted under the plan made by the Czech Republic, which currently heads EU national meetings.
Those with big amounts of stored gas may face reduced demand-cut objectives, as may governments that export gas to other countries, most likely including Spain, which does not rely on Russia for gas and has been a vocal opponent of the EU proposal. Critical industries like chemicals and steel may also be exempted.
The new plan puts national governments, rather than the Commission, in charge of the process of making the aim binding, which can only be done with a majority of nations’ approval.