The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline near Lubmin, northeastern Germany on July 20, 2022 (AFP / Edouard MERLO)
EU energy ministers agreed in Brussels on Tuesday to cut their countries’ gas consumption in a coordinated manner, flying to Germany’s aid after the announcement of a sharp new drop in Russian supplies.
“The European Union confirmed today (Tuesday) that it is united and united. We have taken a big step forward to secure gas supplies this winter,” Czech Minister Josef Sigela said. EU
“The negotiations were not easy, but in the end everyone understood that this sacrifice was necessary,” he added during a press conference.
However, Hungary on Tuesday condemned the deal as “unjustified, unnecessary, unenforceable and harmful”. Of the twenty-seven, this country alone opposed the text, and was therefore adopted by a qualified majority.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the adoption of her proposal last week. Although it has been extensively modified.
It still provides that each country will do “everything possible” to reduce its gas consumption by at least 15% between August 2022 and March 2023, compared to the average of the previous five years over the same period. Russia accounted for 40% of EU gas imports until last year.
A warning mechanism would “bind” a 15% reduction to twenty-seven in the event of a “severe shortage risk”, but this target would be adapted to the realities of each state, particularly export capacity. Thanks to a series of insults, quantities of gas were saved for countries in need.
– Fill the stock –
“This joint commitment is very important and will help us rebuild stocks before winter,” said Ms van der Leyen.
Russian giant Gazprom announced on Monday that it would halve its daily supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream gas pipeline, citing a maintenance operation at a turbine that has dropped to just 20% of its capacity.
A Kremlin spokesman said on Tuesday that the slowdown was due to Western sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. “Without these restrictions, everything (…) would have been completed within the usual time frame,” he said.
But Europeans deny the technical rationale, accusing Moscow of using gas as an economic weapon.
Fighting continued Tuesday in Ukraine, where southern areas came under “massive” Russian shelling, particularly in a coastal village near Odessa and the port of Mykolaiv, according to Ukrainian officials.
“We will certainly retaliate against the Russian Defense Ministry’s lies about these strikes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening message.
A fire in a residential building after shelling in the Mykolaiv region of Ukraine on July 25, 2022, released by Ukrainian emergency services (Emergency Services of Ukraine/STR)
He also condemned “further induced increases in gas prices” targeting Europeans. “It is clear to everyone that this is a deliberate cost of terrorism by Russia against Europe,” he added.
“By using Gazprom, Moscow is doing everything to make this winter difficult for European countries. We must respond to terrorism, respond with economic sanctions,” Zelensky said.
– Saving European Industry –
Evolution of natural gas prices in Europe in the Dutch TTF market, in euros per MWh (AFP / )
At the heart of the European system, the 15% mandatory reduction in consumption raised criticism.
It aims to buy 35% of its gas from Russia by early June – up from 55% before the war – to help Germany, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas, in case of an emergency. .
However, a major shock to Europe’s largest economy would inevitably have consequences for the entire EU.
A 15% reduction in gas consumption actually imposes restrictions on countries like France and Spain, which are protected from disruptions in Russian supplies thanks to their energy policies.
But the effort will be greater for Germany. It should do “better” than 15%, its economy minister Robert Habeck acknowledged, while welcoming European unity. He admitted that Berlin “made a strategic mistake in the past” by relying on Moscow.
The plan has come under heavy criticism from several states in recent days. The memory of the painful austerity measures imposed by Berlin after the 2008 financial crisis is deadliest in southern Europe, including Spain.
Spain’s Minister of Environmental Change, Teresa Ribera, called the plan “unfair” and “inefficient”.
A gas burner in a kitchen in Copenhagen on May 16, 2022 (Ritzau Scanpix/Ida Marie Odgaard)
27 diplomats listened to grievances. It will ultimately be the Council of the EU representing member states, not the Commission as the latter has requested, that will trigger the binding mechanism.
The agreement provides exemptions for island states (Cyprus, Ireland, Malta) that are not interconnected with gas networks of other countries, or for those that exceed targets for filling gas tanks. It also reduces the storage target for countries that are less interconnected or require gas for certain “critical industries”.
From Yaounde, Cameroon, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday condemned the “hypocrisy” heard “especially on the African continent” of not clearly recognizing Russia’s “unilateral aggression” against Ukraine. As does the European Union.
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