Brussels’ plan to curb gas use faces opposition from EU countries

An EU proposal calling on member states to cut their gas use by 15% to prepare for potential cuts to supplies of Russian gas is facing resistance from governments, casting doubt on whether they will approve the emergency plan next week.

On Wednesday (20 July), the European Commission proposed that all 27 EU countries should use 15% less gas from August to March, compared with average use over the last five years.

“We have to be proactive. We have to prepare for a potential full disruption of Russian gas – and this is a likely scenario,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

While the target would be voluntary, Brussels could make it mandatory if it declares a substantial risk of gas shortages.

But at a meeting of EU national diplomats on Wednesday, at least 12 of the 27 member states voiced concerns about the proposal, five EU officials with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters.

The main sticking point is whether the EU should have the power to make the target binding.

Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal were among the countries saying Brussels should not be able to do this without first giving countries a say – and possibly a veto.

“Member states want to have the ability to trigger crisis mechanisms themselves. This is not something they’re very keen on giving away to the Commission,” one EU official said.

Under the proposal, the Commission would consult the bloc’s Gas Coordination Group of country representatives before making the target mandatory.

National diplomats will discuss the proposal on Friday with the aim of their energy ministers approving it at an emergency meeting on Tuesday. It requires approval from a reinforced majority of at least 15 EU countries to become law.

EU countries are racing to fill their gas storage ahead of winter in the face of tight markets, high prices and supply cut-offs from Russia. A dozen EU countries have either had their supply of Russian gas cut completely or reduced since the invasion of Ukraine.

Brussels has warned that, without deeper reductions in gas use now, some will struggle for fuel in colder months if Russia completely cuts supply – a scenario the Commission says is likely. Low storage would also cause problems in 2023, according to the EU executive.

Currently, Europe’s gas filling level is just under 65%, energy commissioner Kadri Simson told journalists at a press conference on Wednesday.

She warned that Russian gas cut-offs could jeopardise the EU’s chances of reaching its 80% storage goal by November.

“If our demand reduction target is not ambitious enough, we risk ending this winter with empty storage, which would be impossible to refill in time for the next heating season,” she said, adding that the 15% reduction target “will significantly reduce security risks”.

So far, EU countries have cut their combined gas demand by just 5%, despite months of dwindling Russian supplies and soaring prices, Simson said.

Still, some countries say that imposing the same target on every country is not the right approach. This includes Spain and Portugal – who do not count Russia among their main gas suppliers – and Hungary, whose government ordered an export ban on gas earlier this month.

On Thursday, Portuguese Energy Secretary Joao Galamba said that the country was “totally against” the EU plan.

“It does not take into account the differences between countries,” he told the newspaper Expresso, warning that a forced gas cut amid low Iberian hydropower production could cause power cuts.


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