In the end, Russia’s renewed shameful behavior on gas supplies helped EU ministers pen down the significant cracks in support of the principle of cutting gas consumption by 15 percent next winter.
But the EU’s policy-making Commission warned that the range of exemptions included in its original plan presented last week – including special clauses for Ireland – risked missing the target at all. Only Hungary, which is drifting back towards Russia, did not participate in the end.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the plan to reduce gas consumption “unjustifiable, useless, unenforceable and harmful”.
Last week he visited Moscow to discuss Hungary’s energy needs, which stem from old allies.
Things got even more complicated when Ireland’s Energy Secretary, Eamon Ryan, was asked about it. He rightly said he feared the targeted 15 per cent cut would be narrower than needed – but the Irish government also pushed for being on the list as there are special exceptions to such a cut.
But these are the diametrically opposed political realities that all Western governments are currently facing. EU governments must maintain solidarity with embattled Ukraine while trying to avert an energy crisis this winter that poses serious threats of full-scale economic recession.
When the EU Commission presented its plan last Wednesday, there was strong resistance from several member states, notably Spain, Portugal and Greece. Ireland, Cyprus and Malta cited their island status which made their isolated energy cases special.
Some Brussels officials noted that the “clumsy force” in this case was identical to the list of those struggling economically after the 2008 crash, many of whom were disappointed with the EU’s response.
Spain’s energy minister, Teresa Ribera, openly stated that Spain is not as dependent on Russian gas as Germany.
However, as the final compromise loomed yesterday, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, previously an Estonian politician, noted that the bad behavior of her old neighbors in Moscow had helped forge “a consensus at the table”. Just hours earlier, Russia announced that it was reducing gas transport to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to just 20 percent.
EU diplomats confirmed that Ireland, Malta and Cyprus were granted full exemptions, broadly in line with their arguments. Some of the Baltic states connected to Russia’s power grid will also get exemptions if they have to burn more gas to make up for a power shortage. And countries that can replenish their gas stocks to 80 percent before winter will also get an exemption.
Significantly, the power to move the 15 percent reduction from voluntary to mandatory status rests with member governments rather than the Brussels administration.
For now, at least, the plan will last just one year instead of the two years originally proposed. But there is a queasy feeling across Europe that measures like these will remain in place for some time to come.
Speaking to a meeting with other EU energy ministers, Ryan said the proposals to cut gas consumption by 15 percent would not be enough to get through the winter, as Russia has just announced a further reduction in its gas supplies through Nord Stream 1.
“But it’s better than not having it, and I think the signal it sends is important too,” Mr Ryan said.
Russia’s Gazprom blames its latest cut on the need to shut down a turbine. However, that reasoning was dismissed by Energy Commissioner Ms Simson, who said the move was “politically motivated”.
Irish officials reiterated the country’s unique energy situation, which does not use Russian gas but sources 75 percent of supplies from Scotland and the rest from the Corrib field.
But they also insisted that every effort will be made to reduce gas consumption in Ireland this winter, with a renewed advertising campaign this autumn and advice for all consumers on how to cut down on unnecessary consumption.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/eu-ministers-papering-over-the-cracks-on-use-of-gas-may-not-be-enough-to-halt-crisis-this-winter-41870236.html EU ministers whitewashing cracks in gas consumption may not be enough to stop the crisis this winter