EU debates revised plan to reduce gas use after opposition

Spain, Portugal and Greece were among the countries most openly hostile to an EU plan to cut gas use by 15 per cent. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - European envoys debated revisions on Friday (July 22) to a proposal by the EU executive that all bloc members cut natural gas use to prepare for potential Russian supply cuts, hoping for a compromise by next week after some governments balked at the plan.

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday that all EU countries should cut their gas use from August to March by 15 per cent.

The target would initially be voluntary, but would become mandatory if the Commission declared an emergency.

But from the outset, the proposal met criticism from a range of countries. Spain, Portugal and Greece are among the most openly hostile, while diplomats say Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Poland also have reservations about giving the Commission the power to order cuts.

Under a proposal put forward by the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, EU governments would have to approve any proposal by the Commission to make the cuts mandatory, EU diplomats said.

The revised text would also cut the time period for which the system would apply from two years to one, to emphasise the emergency nature of the measure.

Some countries complain that a uniform 15 per cent cut would inflict more pain than necessary on householders in some parts of the bloc, to protect gas-hungry industrial users in other regions.

Envoys will discuss possible further revisions on Monday, before energy ministers meet for an emergency session designed to forge an agreement.

"It's not just fine-tuning. There is still more work to be done," an EU diplomat said.

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Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said in a letter to the Commission on Friday that Spain shared the final goal of the EU executive's proposals, but believed there were more effective measures than a uniform and mandatory gas demand cut.

"It is essential that the European response to this situation not be perceived as unfair and economically damaging for our citizens and industry," she wrote, adding Spain was committed to engage constructively.

The Commission said on Friday the need for gas consumption cuts was clear and that an energy issue could quickly become a broader economic problem.

"It's based on the fact that there is a serious risk of cut-off of supply of gas from Russia and we need to prepare for this eventuality," a spokesman said.

"This is not the first time that we are having fierce debates... on crucial subjects."

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