A winter of energy rationing. While the danger of Russian gas cuts looms over the EU and fears of massive damage to industry are fueled by supply problems, Brussels is quickly urging the 27 partners to save. The European Commission is asking member states to reduce their gas consumption by 15% between August 1st and March 31st, 2023 through their national contingency plans and recommendations from Brussels, regardless of whether they are dependent on gas from Russia or not. If they don’t meet the target with the voluntary measures, which will also be reviewed by a Commission technical group, that 15 percent cut will become mandatory under a Community Executive Order presented today, which will be debated on Wednesday by the Energy Ministers of the Twenty-Seven. Brussels assumes that the “risk of a serious disruption in gas supply” could exist for at least the next two winter seasons.
The urgent plan concerns the risk of further cuts in Russia’s gas supplies in Moscow’s response to EU support for Ukraine in the face of the February 24 invasion ordered by Vladimir Putin. “Russia is calculatingly putting us under pressure and curbing gas supplies,” emphasized the President of the European Commission, Ursula von de Leyen, in Brussels this Wednesday, where she presented the regulation. A total reduction is “probable,” said the head of the municipal board, and that would affect all countries. Brussels, which speaks of a “militarization of gas exports by the Kremlin”, emphasizes that almost half of the member states are already affected by the reduction in supplies.
The regulation presented this Wednesday and pushed by EL PAIS, which does not include households and consumers in its cuts, which it considers protected sectors, but focuses mainly on public organizations and industries, seeks to manage and withstand disruptions in a coordinated manner of Blow as a bloc, regardless of whether there are countries that are more reliant on Russian gas, which they’ve been getting at a good price for years, like Germany or Hungary, than others, like Spain or Portugal, who get more from other suppliers. “Now we already have 12 member states in the ‘early warning state’,” emphasized President von der Leyen. “For the first time we have to face the issue of energy security at European level,” he stressed.
In order to try to save from now on so that the gas reserves are as full as possible for the winter, the Commission is calling for a ban on setting the thermostat to more than 19 degrees in winter and setting the air conditioning to less than 25 in public buildings in the summer, it also urges countries to implement plans to subsidize industries that have had to shut down production or choose to do so voluntarily in order to economize. Measures that, according to Brussels, are the final step before a possible declaration of an energy emergency in the European Union, a decision that allows the supply of certain types of customers to be reduced.
But aside from calls for order for countries to finalize and implement their energy emergency plans – which the new rule requires them to do before September 31 – the regulation has met with resistance in some countries. Especially in those that have managed to replenish their reserves sufficiently, like Poland, or in others, like Portugal or Spain, that are less dependent on Russian gas.
A 15% cut would mean that Spain would have to give up around 45 days of consumption per year, according to estimates based on European Commission data. Brussels warns that while there are countries less affected by the direct Russian cut, if the Kremlin shuts off the gas supply, they will suffer the blow to other member states’ industries and economies.
However, if this 15% reduction (based on a comparison with the average consumption over the last 5 years) is not achieved with the national emergency plans, Brussels will enforce this reduction in a binding and linear manner for all Member States. The commission believes that a reduction in general consumption will allow suppliers to redirect supplies to other customers: for example, if Spain saves, Brussels believes that the gas it no longer receives from Algeria as a supplier will go to another member state with agreements can go with Africa country, like Italy. “With this 15 percent reduction, in the event of a Russian gas freeze, we could easily get through the winter if we have a winter with average temperatures,” said von der Leyen, who spoke of “difficult times” and a crisis , for which “Russia is to blame”
Brussels is demanding that the EU’s underground gas storage facilities be filled to 80% of their capacity by November 1, 2022 to ensure supplies for the coming winter. Now the reserves are at 65%, as explained by Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson. Russia, stressed Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for the European Green Pact, that uses gas as a “political instrument”, so the EU must give “a political answer”. Timmermans emphasized this Wednesday that the Union only has one option: “We must launch solidarity now or wait until the situation forces us to show solidarity with much worse circumstances,” stressed the Executive Vice-President, who warned that the winter of 2024 “could be much worse”. The Commission estimates that if Moscow shuts off the gas, the bloc’s GDP could fall by 1.5%, according to Commissioner Simson.
The regulation speaks of a “significant risk of an abrupt and unilateral complete disruption of Russian gas supplies in the near future” and calls for energy solidarity. The new rule states that in the event of an energy emergency, a member state can call in solidarity from others to share their gas supply with it, but to do so it must demonstrate that it has done everything possible to save and implement its plans for contingencies. The EU has highlighted the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, who, presenting the regulation, spoke of “sobriety” and also of the plans to diversify its energy sources. The Union, he said, “is preparing for a future without Russian gas.”