EU reaches deal on gas amid Russia fears of cuts


European Union governments on Tuesday agreed to supply natural gas this winter to insulate themselves against any further Russian supply cuts as Moscow pursues its invasion of Ukraine.

EU energy ministers have approved a draft European law aimed at reducing gas demand by 15% between August and March. The new act requires voluntary national steps to reduce gas consumption and if they yield insufficient savings, will cause forced moves in the 27-member block.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the move and said in a statement that “the EU has taken a decisive step to face the threat of a complete gas disruption by (President Russia Vladimir Putin).”

On Monday, Russia’s energy giant Gazprom said it would limit supplies to the EU through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of capacity, raising fears that Putin would use it commercially. gas to challenge the bloc’s opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela, whose policy portfolio includes energy, said: “Winter is coming and we don’t know how cold it will be. “But what we do know for sure is that Putin will continue to play his dirty game in the abuse and extortion of gas supplies.”

The ministerial agreement was signed in less than a week. It is based on a proposal last Wednesday from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. Wishing to maintain a common EU front in the face of a conflict with no end in sight, the commission said a fair distribution would help the bloc get through the winter if Russia stopped all supplies. gas.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and the West countered with economic sanctions, 12 EU countries have faced halting or cutting Russian gas supplies.

Although it has agreed to embargo oil and coal from Russia starting at the end of this year, the EU has limited sanctions on Russian natural gas because Germany, Italy and some other member countries rely heavily on these aspects. this import.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who is also responsible for energy and is the country’s deputy prime minister, said: “Germany has made strategic mistakes in the past by relying heavily on Russian gas and confidence. that it will always flow continuously and cheaply.” “But it’s not just a German problem.”

The disruption in Russia’s energy trade with the EU is causing record inflation in Europe and risks a recession in the bloc just as it is recovering from the pandemic-induced pandemic. .

The energy squeeze is also reviving decades of political experimentation for Europe in terms of policy coordination. Although the EU has gained centralized power over monetary, trade, antitrust and agricultural policies, national sovereignty over energy issues still dominates.

In a sign of this, energy ministers have removed a provision in the draft gas allocation law that would have given the European Commission the power to decide any move from voluntary action to Obligatory. Instead, ministers ensure any decision on mandatory steps will be in the hands of member states.

They also dilute other elements of the original proposal, including exemptions for island states.

However, Tuesday’s agreement marks another important milestone in EU policy integration and crisis management.

The deal comes just six days after the committee rushed to draft the legislation – in stark contrast to previous EU legislative initiatives in the energy sector that often dragged months or years of negotiations. between national governments.

In that respect, the new gas savings plan resembles developments in EU health policy two years ago, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which member states agreed to act on. This includes having the committee negotiate agreements with pharmaceutical companies to supply vaccines to all 27 countries.

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