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25th Feb 2024

EU agrees voluntary 15% gas-cut plan — but with exemptions

  • Austria’s minister Leonore Gewessler (l), Roberto Cingolani from Italy, Germany’s climate minister Robert Habeck, and EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson at the council meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)
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EU governments agreed on Tuesday (26 July) to a watered-down emergency plan to curb gas demand, as they brace themselves for further cuts in supplies by Russia.

The EU Commission proposed to member states to save gas and store it for the winter, fearing that Russia will completely cut Europe off in retaliation for sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

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Energy ministers at a council meeting approved the proposal for all EU countries to voluntarily cut gas use by 15 percent, in the August-March period, from the average from 2017-2021.

Those cuts could be made binding in an emergency, provided that a majority of EU countries agree.

"We have to, and we will, share the pain," Czech industry minister Jozef Sikela said after chairing the meeting, as his country presides over the EU council's rotating presidency.

However, member states also agreed to exempt numerous industries from the binding 15-percent cut.

Ireland, Malta and Cyprus secured exemption for themselves.

These three countries are not connected to other EU countries' gas networks, so they would not be able to share spare gas.

Ministers also agreed that member states with a limited capability to export gas to other EU countries can also request a lower target, likely including Spain.

Countries that overachieve an EU target for filling gas storage by August could also face weaker targets.

All member states, except for Hungary, supported the compromise deal.

Hungary's foreign minister Péter Szijjártó said that the proposal was "unjustifiable, useless, unenforceable and harmful."

Poland approved the deal, but its climate minister Anna Moskwa said one country's industry should not be forced to use less gas to help other states, Reuters reported.

German economy minister Robert Habeck said the agreement would show Russian president Vladimir Putin that Europe remained united. "You will not split us," Habeck said.

Some ministers raised concern the savings would still not be enough to avoid a winter shortage. The EU has reduced its combined gas use by only five percent, despite the rhetoric to do so.

"Fifteen percent will probably not be enough, given what the Russians have just announced," Irish environment minister Eamon Ryan was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The agreement came as Russia's Gazprom said it would cut gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to 20 percent of capacity, starting Wednesday.

Gazprom has blamed it on needing to halt operation of a turbine.

EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson dismissed that reason, calling the move "politically-motivated".

Simson said Tuesday's agreement should ensure countries save enough gas to survive an average winter if Russia fully cut supplies now, but EU countries used their exemptions.

She warned, however, that an unusually cold winter would require more severe measures.

The disruptions in Russian energy supply to the EU has been prompting record inflation in Europe, and a steep rise in energy prices.

EU ministers struggle over 15% gas-cut plan

The meeting comes as the Russian state-controlled Gazprom announced that supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany would drop to just 20 percent of capacity, starting Wednesday.

Hungary seeks to buy more gas from Russia

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán is facing one of his biggest challenges of his more than a decade-long rule, as the economic pressures keep mounting, and EU funds remain suspended due to rule-of-law concerns.

EU Commission set to unveil gas-reduction plan

The European Commission will unveil a new plan to reduce gas consumption by industry and consumers in a bid to prepare for "a likely deterioration" — or a full cut-off of Russian gas flows this winter.

Russia cuts Nord Stream 1 gas to 20% capacity

It comes a day after EU governments approved a watered-down plan to curb gas demand by 15 percent, aimed at lowering consumption, building storage, and sharing supplies if Russia in future cuts all exports.

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