An emergency proposal agreed by European Union energy Ministers could see a 15% reduction of natural gas use become mandatory if security of gas supply is threatened.
The EU member states met to agree a plan as Moscow hit back against sanctions imposed by the bloc after the invasion of Ukraine by reducing the delivery of natural gas to Europe which is heavily reliant on Russian supplies.
The emergency proposal requires member states to cut their gas use by 15% from August 2022 to the following March as concerns grow about energy demands for the coming winter.
“Member states today reached a political agreement on a voluntary reduction of natural gas demand by 15% this winter,” the European Council said in a statement.
However the Council warned that the gas demand reduction could become mandatory.
“The Council regulation also foresees the possibility to trigger a ‘Union alert’ on security of supply, in which case the gas demand reduction would become mandatory,” it said.
The agreement, made Tuesday, comes after Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas giant, cited ‘technical’ factors in its expected drastic downturn in the delivery of natural gas to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. The energy giant said deliveries to Europe would fall up to 50%, and be reduced to 33 million cubic metres a day from Wednesday.
The Nord Stream pipeline has been running well below capacity for weeks, and was completely shut down for a 10-day maintenance break earlier this year. Last year, Russia accounted for some 40 percent of the EU’s gas imports.
However, while Russia blames technical issues, EU leaders have said they see the curtailed deliveries as retaliation for Western sanctions imposed during the Ukrainian conflict.
EU energy chief Kadri Simson accused Gazprom’s announcement of being “politically motivated”.
“This is a politically motivated step, and we have to be ready for that. And exactly for that reason, the preemptive reduction of our gas demand is a wise strategy,” she added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by saying European leaders were “trying to shift the blame for their own mistakes to Gazprom without any basis”.
There was opposition from some EU member states in regard to any possibility of mandatory restrictions.
Anna Moskwa, Poland’s minister of climate and the environment, said the issue was one for each country to decide.
“We cannot accept any decisions that are imposed on countries,” she told reporters. “Energy security is a national prerogative.”
Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, echoed Simson’s remarks, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind Gazprom’s plan to cut gas deliveries to Europe.
“Putin will continue to play his dirty games in misusing and blackmailing gas supplies,” Sikela said as he arrived in Brussels.
The Gazprom cut, he said, “is just an additional … proof that we have to take the game in our hands and we have to reduce the dependencies on Russian supplies as soon as possible”.
EU countries are expected to approve the proposal with opt-outs allowing them to follow different national paths to prepare for Russian supply cuts.
Making the targets compulsory would particularly benefit economic powerhouse Germany, which is dependent on Russian gas for much of its energy production and might need help from its neighbours.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Tuesday that approving the proposal would be a show of unity.
“Of course, there are a lot of compromises in this text now. This is the way Europe operates,” Habeck told reporters in Brussels.
“It’s a very important next step. It shows that Europe stays united, that Europe is able to find unity,” he said, adding that the plan sent a signal to “Putin and to Russia: ‘you won’t split us’”.