EU votes to reduce gas consumption as Russia cuts supply
Winter is coming and the Russian invasion of Ukraine still raging on. Now, the 27 Energy Ministers of the European Union voted in on July 27 to approve emergency measures to prepare for a winter without Russian gas. But will it be enough to keep themselves warm without their biggest gas supplier?
Before the war in Ukraine, DW writes, Russia provided the EU with 40% of its gas consumption. However, the number has been dwindling since the invasion began in February 2022.
The measures, in their current form, ask the member states of the European Union to voluntarily reduce their gas consumption by 15% and exempt countries such as Ireland and Malta, which are not connected to European gas networks.
Image: Alexandre Lallemand / Unsplash
Hungary was the only EU country to reject the plan. According to DW, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto (pictured) complained that the measures were “unjustifiable, useless, unenforceable and harmful”.
German Minister of Finances Robert Habeck applauded the EU plan and considered that it served to send a message to Putin and Vladimir Putin: “You will not split us”.
Just a few days earlier, Russia had cut the gas supply going to Germany through the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Although the Russian state gas company Gazprom claimed it was shut down for maintenance, many high-raking European officials saw it as a threat.
The New York Times reported that on the eve of the EU voting in on the emergency plan, Gazprom reduced the gas supply on the Nord gas pipeline to just 20% of its capacity.
“Based on our information, there is no technical reason for a reduction in deliveries,” the German Economy Ministry said in a statement.
News of Gazprom cutting the gas supply has been forcing an increase in gas prices across Europe. “The price, previously below 30 euros per megawatt-hour, has soared in the past year, at times topping €180, or $184”, writes The New York Times.
‘Russia is blackmailing us’, declared President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on July 20, before revealing the measures the member states would vote.
The original proposal obligated the 27 member states that make up the bloc must reduce their gas consumption by 15% between summer and springtime.
According to the New York Times, Russia provides 40% of the gas of the European Union. By June, five months after the start of the war, the Moscow government had reduced gas exports to the EU by over two-thirds.
Al Jazeera highlights that for such measures to pass, they would be required to be voted in by 72% of the votes —over 19 votes out of 27— in order to be approved.
Al Jazeera writes that Spain, Portugal and Poland have stated their discontent with the proposal within the first 24 hours. Although they ultimately approve of them, with some reservations.
Image: Frederic Köberl
Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera declared that her country doesn’t depend on Russian gas, so it wouldn’t make sense to approve such a measure.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese Energy Minister, Joao Galamba, declared to the Lisbon-based newspaper Expresso that the European Commission was not taking into consideration the specific needs of the Iberian countries.
Galamba pointed out that Spain and Portugal have been forced to produce more power from gas due to a drought affecting the Iberian Peninsula during the summer.
During the celebrations of Bastille Day, July 14th, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Putin of weaponizing the energy supplies to punish Europe for aiding Ukraine, reports Bloomberg.
In what has been described as his most severe warning yet, Macron called government agencies, companies, and families to reduce power consumption to prepare for the upcoming winter.
Germany, meanwhile, faces the biggest challenge when it comes to gas supply and energy policy. According to The Guardian, before the war in Ukraine, 55% of the gas used in Germany came from Russia, which in turn made up 37% of the country’s overall energy consumption.
Gas power was promoted as a “bridge technology” on the way to achieving carbon reduction targets by the current government of Olaf Scholz and his predecessor, Angela Merkel. The homes and industries of Europe’s largest economies have become heavily reliant on gas in the past two decades.
At the same time, Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants are due to close at the end of 2022 and offer only 5% of the overall power grid.
Minister of Economy Robert Habeck, who is a member of the Green Party, stated that even if they wanted to, extending the life of the three nuclear plants would bring very little reward.
On March 8, the European Commission announced a plan to make the EU independent of Russian fossil fuels before 2030 by the name of REPowerEU.
The idea has been summed up by EU Commissioner Thierry Breton in three words: Substitution, solidarity, and sobriety. Substitute Russian fuels with alternatives, joint aid, and coordination across Europe to reach goals and purchase gas and hydrogen and, finally, make sacrifices in an objective and measured manner.