BRUSSELS — Fears that Russia could shut off the taps this winter, the European Union agreed on Tuesday to a deal to curb natural gas consumption starting next week, with the Kremlin defying President Vladimir V. Putin. It’s the latest show of determination and solidarity under pressure and push. Attack on Ukraine.
The agreement underscored the EU’s ability to compromise, even if it ends in a compromise, and marked an important step in managing Russian energy dependence and divisiveness in the face of Russian threats.
“Today, the EU has taken a decisive step to confront Putin’s threat of a total gas shutdown,” Ursula van der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said shortly after the deal. said in the statement. reached
For now, the cuts, which aim to save up to 15 percent by spring, will be voluntary, but a drop in energy supplies – or a sudden Russian cut in supplies – could be bound to trigger an emergency. How this is achieved is up to each individual, but countries will have to look for immediate savings, including rallying citizens to change their home heating or air conditioning usage habits.
Ms van der Leyen said that by working together — and taking into account the energy challenges each nation faces — the EU “laid a strong foundation for the necessary solidarity among member states against Putin’s energy blackmail.” Saved.”
It was no small feat that, in concluding the agreement, the commission asked countries less dependent on Russian gas to share the burden of consumption cuts equally, arguing that the bloc’s economies are highly integrated. and can cause shock damage to a limb. Wealth.
Russian gas flows, which provide 40 percent of EU consumption, were less than a third of the normal average in June. Gas storage facilities in Europe, usually almost full at this time of year in preparation for winter, do not have enough storage to cope with such fluctuations and shortages. European countries use gas to generate electricity for most households as well as for industry and especially for domestic heating.
The fuel represents a quarter of the bloc’s energy mix, with some countries relying more on it than others. Before the invasion, Germany relied on Russia for 55 percent of its gas imports. In the last few months it has managed to reduce this to around 30%.
The deal comes less than 24 hours after Russia’s state gas monopoly, Gazprom, said it would stop sending natural gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Europe’s biggest consumer of Russian gas, Germany. will reduce the quantity further. Limited flow resumed less than a week ago after annual maintenance ceased.
Ahead of the Brussels meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Moscow of waging “an open gas war” against “a united Europe” and urged leaders not to cave in to Russian threats.
Although the agreement did not require consensus among the EU’s 27 states, diplomats involved in the process said that ultimately only one member did not support the deal – Hungary, previously a holdout. Is.
Since Russia’s attack, the European Union has rallied to adopt sanctions. It has imposed a total ban on Russian coal imports, effective August 1, and will ban most Russian oil imports until the end of this year. But the oil embargo was a tough move for Hungary to adopt, which has maintained warm ties with the Kremlin, and has managed to exempt itself for the foreseeable future.
Europe’s transition from fossil fuels
The European Union has begun the transition to greener forms of energy. But financial and geopolitical considerations can complicate efforts.
Tuesday’s agreement on gas cuts revealed multiple internal divisions, but breaking with past habits, member states overcame acrimony and struck a quick and seemingly effective compromise.
The European Commission’s original proposal last week offered a less flexible plan to immediately cut fuel use across the bloc. He predicted fewer exemptions, and blamed the commission itself for making the emergency call and triggering mandatory natural gas restrictions.
Controversially, the proposal also calls for countries that are less dependent on Russian gas or have already embarked on ambitious energy-saving projects to share the burden of reducing consumption equally, so that more Dependents can be helped.
Critics saw the proposal as primarily benefiting the bloc’s biggest economy and de facto leader, Germany, which is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas imports.
German weakness turned the tables on the old European script. In previous financial crises, Germans pointed the finger at weaker countries, particularly in the south of the continent, for being irresponsible. Now the southern countries, including Greece, Spain, and Italy, were able to gain the moral high ground.
But the complexities of curbing gas use in Europe go far beyond the clichéd cleavages between north and south. Ultimately, the mechanism for resolving differences was a stark departure from the EU’s old playbook, which was typically characterized by fruitless, late-night meetings and public humiliation.
Instead, EU energy ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday morning walked away from their talks five hours later, with a compromise that would address individual concerns without undermining the policy goal — gas. to reduce the use of and reduce Mr. Putin’s energy risks.
“Europe achieved a great, I want to say a surprising level of unity,” said German Economy Minister Robert Haebeck. He added that the deal showed that Mr Putin’s strategy of trying to raise gas prices in an attempt to “divide Europe and break its solidarity with Ukraine” would not work.
“Today’s summit and agreement gave a strong, decisive signal to the contrary, which I think will be heard in Moscow,” Mr Habeck said. “Europe will not be divided.”
The compromise plan would exempt Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, island nations that have little flexibility to find alternative energy sources in the event of shortages, as they are not connected to the continent’s complex system of pipelines. Between them, the three countries have a population of 7 million — the EU’s total population is about 450 million — and represent a tiny fraction of total gas consumption.
Other exceptions will apply in certain circumstances to accommodate members who are in an energy crisis, or those who have done a great job of saving their gas. The Baltic states—Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia—have electricity grids connected to Russia and, if Russia cuts them off, they too would not be asked to stop using gas.
A senior European Commission official said countries that have met their storage targets, such as Poland and Italy, could ask to pay compensation by reducing their consumption, although such exemptions would not be granted automatically. will
And member states will not be allowed to store natural gas for national use in their storage facilities when others are experiencing shortages. Using these dense, shared pipeline networks, EU countries agreed to share their gas reserves and bail each other out in the event of severe shortages.
European officials said the Commission’s original plan would reduce gas consumption by about 45 billion cubic meters to prepare the bloc for a very cold winter without Russian gas imports. A compromise plan would keep them running smoothly through a normal winter, with a bit of Russian gas, cutting a slightly more modest but still significant 30-40 billion cubic meters.
It was a double victory, said Simon Tagliapatra, an energy policy expert with Bruegel, a Brussels research group: The EU found a credible way to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, and when the Kremlin divided them They managed to live together. .
“With this project we can get 40 billion cubic meters by March and that is exactly what we need,” he said.
“Putin’s strategy has been clear from the beginning, you don’t have to be a genius to see that Russia wants to use the leverage it has over EU countries to push its position on Ukraine,” he added. “To weaken the EU, try to divide it.” “Gazprom is no longer a company, it is a geopolitical weapon in the hands of the Kremlin.”
Melissa Eddy Contributed reporting from Berlin and Monica Pranzuk From Brussels