BRUSSELS – European Union energy ministers struck a deal on Tuesday to cut their natural gas consumption, finding enough political common ground for a quick compromise designed to avert an energy crisis as Russia gambles with Union fuel supplies.
The agreement provides exemptions for countries that face particular energy problems or have been diligent in saving more gas than they needed in recent months. But he still calls on all nations to voluntarily reduce their natural gas consumption by 15% by spring.
Nations in the bloc will need to agree that there is a broader energy supply emergency to make the measures mandatory.
The deal came less than 24 hours after Russian gas monopoly Gazprom said it would further reduce the amount of natural gas it would send to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Restricted flows resumed less than a week ago after an annual maintenance shutdown.
The compromise, while softer than the original proposal, meant an important step in dealing with the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy and the vulnerabilities it creates as the Kremlin tries to punish the Europe for its support for Ukraine. He also underlined the continued ability of the European Union to forge an agreement and overcome divisions in the face of persistent threats from Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
“Today the EU has taken a decisive step to address the threat of a complete gas cut by Putin,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement shortly after the announcement. conclusion of the agreement.
Unanimity was not required to pass the proposal, but only one of the 27 member states ultimately did not support the compromise, according to diplomats involved in the process. The only country to vote against was Hungary, which appeared as a spoiler in the last round of critical votes on Ukraine-related topics.
The European Commission’s initial proposal last week laid out a less flexible plan to urgently reduce fuel use across the bloc, suggesting savings would keep the 27 members afloat if the Kremlin turns off the taps, ensuring that no country in the EU would face a crisis. . But it provided fewer exceptions and tasked the Commission itself with calling an emergency and triggering mandatory natural gas cuts.
However, the European Commission’s proposals are generally maximalist and take into account the dilution process that usually ensues when EU countries, each with their particular needs, begin to debate them.
Ms von der Leyen said that by acting together – and taking into account the energy challenges facing individual nations – the EU had “secured the solid foundations of much-needed solidarity between member states in the face of Putin’s energy blackmail.
The logic behind the request that countries less dependent on Russian gas share the burden of reducing consumption fairly is that the economy of the European Union is highly integrated and that a blow to a member can harm everyone.
This is especially true when one of the most vulnerable economies belongs to Germany – the de facto leader of the bloc, one of the world’s major industrialized nations and a major buyer of Russian natural gas.
Russia has been slow to restore gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, which connects Russia and Germany and was offline for several days this month for maintenance.
Russian gas flow, which provides 40% of EU consumption, was less than a third of the normal average in June. Gas storage facilities in Europe, normally almost full at this point of the year in anticipation of winter, are not sufficiently supplied to cope with this volatility and shortages.
The compromise plan will exempt Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, island nations with little flexibility to seek alternative energy sources, as well as Baltic states that have power grids connected to those of Russia, according to an official statement summarizing the agreement outlining the reasons for the exemptions. .
Because several EU countries – including Poland, Greece and Spain – with more modest consumption and adequate stocks considered a uniform reduction in use to be unfair, the plan also sets out other grounds for more modest reductions in consumption. For example, countries that have exceeded their storage fill target can compensate by reducing their use less.