Brussels – European Union countries bracing for further cuts in Russian gas supply approved a weakened emergency plan to curb demand on Tuesday after striking compromise deals to limit the reductions for some countries.
Europe faces an increased gas squeeze from Wednesday, when Russia’s Gazprom said it would cut flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to a fifth of capacity.
With a dozen EU countries already facing lower Russian supplies, Brussels urged member states to save gas and store it for winter for fear Russia will completely cut off flows in retaliation for Western sanctions over its war with Ukraine.
Energy ministers approved a proposal for all EU countries to voluntarily cut gas use by 15 per cent in the August to March period from the average from 2017-2021.
The cuts could be made binding in a supply emergency, provided a majority of EU countries agree to this.
But countries agreed to exempt numerous countries and industries from the binding 15 per cent cut, after some governments opposed the EU’s original proposal to apply it to every country.
German economy minister Robert Habeck said the agreement would show Russian president Vladimir Putin that Europe remained united in the face of Moscow’s latest gas cuts.
Hungary was the only country that opposed the deal, two EU officials said.
Russia’s Gazprom blamed its latest reduction on needing to halt the operation of a turbine – a reason dismissed by EU energy chief Kadri Simson, who called the decision “politically motivated”.
Simson said the agreement should ensure countries save enough gas to survive an average winter if Russia fully cut supplies now, but an unusually cold winter would require more severe measures.
Russia supplied 40 per cent of EU gas before it invaded Ukraine on February 24, in what Moscow calls a “special military operation”.
Countries with a limited ability to export gas to other EU countries can request a lower target, provided they export what they can.
That could include Spain, which does not rely on Russian gas and had initially opposed the EU plan.
The EU deal would exempt from the binding 15 per cent gas cut Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus – countries that are not connected to other member states’ gas networks and therefore could not share spare gas with other countries in a supply emergency.