EU countries reach deal on emergency gas cuts for this winter

Russian's Gazprom said it would again reduce flows to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) -European Union countries agreed on Tuesday (July 26) to an emergency regulation to curb their gas use this winter, as Europe prepares for a winter of uncertain supplies from Russia.

“This was not a Mission Impossible! Ministers have reached a political agreement on gas demand reduction ahead of the upcoming winter,” the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, wrote in a tweet.

Europe faces a further gas squeeze this week, after Russian's Gazprom said it would again reduce flows to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

With a dozen EU countries already facing reduced Russian supplies, Brussels has warned that a full cut-off is likely - and is urging countries to prepare by saving gas and storing it for winter.

The European Commission last week proposed emergency rules requiring each country to cut its gas use by 15 per cent from August to March. The target would be voluntary, but the Commission could make it binding in a supply emergency.

However, the plan has faced resistance from a range of governments and countries have redrafted it to include exemptions for numerous countries and industries. 

"Member states have to make sure that their targets are feasible given their domestic situation," a senior EU diplomat said.

But others warned that the weakened rules risked countries failing to save enough gas for winter.

European Union energy policy chief Kadri Simson said on Tuesday that Gazprom’s move to further slash deliveries to Europe is politically motivated, disputing the company’s claim that it had cut supply because it needed to halt the operation of a turbine.

“We know that there is no technical reason to do so. This is a politically motivated step, and we have to be ready for that. And exactly for that reason, the pre-emptive reduction of our gas demand is a wise strategy,” Simson said on her arrival to a meeting of EU countries’ energy ministers in Brussels.

Simson earlier said she expected the ministers to reach a deal on emergency EU rules requiring countries to curb their gas demand.

While governments including Germany, Europe's biggest gas user, have upped their energy saving measures, EU countries have reduced their combined gas use by just 5 per cent, despite months of soaring prices and dwindling Russian supplies.

Russia supplied 40 per cent of EU gas before its invasion of Ukraine in late February, and 30 per cent of the union's oil.

The redrafted proposal would exempt from the binding target countries like Ireland and Malta that are not connected to EU gas networks. Countries that export gas to others, and those with near-full gas storage, could face weaker targets, while industries such as chemicals and steel could be exempted.

The draft would require a majority of countries to trigger the binding gas cuts, after many opposed the Commission's original proposal that it have the final say.

The plan has tested EU solidarity, and some states say imposing a single percentage cut across all countries is unfair.

Critics include Spain, which does not rely on Russian gas, and Greece, which says it could cope with a Russian cut-off.

A Polish official said the country would oppose any rules that could allow other EU members to use Polish gas reserves.

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