European energy ministers have agreed an EU-wide plan to cut gas consumption in case of a complete shut-off of Russian supplies.
As part of the deal, the 27 EU nations on Tuesday vowed to slash 45bn cubic metres in gas use between August 1 and March 31, equivalent to a 15 per cent decrease from the bloc’s average consumption over the previous five years. Only Hungary, whose foreign minister visited Russia last week to request more gas deliveries, voted against the deal in the council.
The deal comes as gas prices across the bloc have soared after Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom said flows through the crucial Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany would drop because of alleged turbine maintenance issues.
Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner, said such behaviour from Moscow brought “consensus around the table that we need to get ready for the worst”.
Jozef Sikela, Czech minister for industry and trade, said: “We have made a huge step towards securing gas supplies for our citizens and our economies for the upcoming winter.”
However European Commission officials warned that opt-outs negotiated as part of the final compromise and designed to account for national energy mixes meant there was a risk the bloc would fall short of the 15 per cent target. Depending on the exemptions that would be ultimately invoked, the overall reduction would be between 38bn and 43bn cubic metres, one official said, citing internal estimates.
Among the carve-outs, island states such as Malta, Cyprus and Ireland, which have no direct connection to the European grid, will benefit from a full exemption from the target. So will countries whose electricity systems are connected to Russia’s and which would need to burn gas for electricity should Moscow cut them off — such as the Baltic states.
Countries that have exceeded an 80 per cent target for filling up gas storage tanks before winter and those with critical industries reliant on gas can also ask for a lower reduction target, according to details of the deal.
The compromise includes clauses that put the power to make the targets binding in the hands of EU capitals and reducing the length of time that the gas reduction plan would be in place from two years to one.
The commission faced stiff pushback last week after outlining a draft plan for a blanket 15 per cent reduction in gas use across the EU that would be made mandatory in case of an emergency to help countries heavily reliant on Russian gas, such as Germany, weather potential supplies shortages. Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and France were among those that objected, arguing that the commission had not consulted them enough and the plan did not take into account national differences.
Germany has been one of the EU countries worst affected by Moscow’s weaponisation of gas supplies in response to European sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Robert Habeck, German minister for economic affairs and climate action, sought to see the positive side of the compromise, saying that many countries were announcing voluntary gas cutting measures and “who knows, perhaps we will reach 16 or 20 per cent”.