EU asked to reduce gas consumption by 15 percent to face possible Russian cuts

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The European Commission has asked member states to reduce their demand for natural gas by 15 percent over the next few months in order to ensure enough remains for the winter if Russia decides to cut off its supply.

"Russia is blackmailing us; Russia is using energy as a weapon," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told reporters Wednesday, announcing an emergency plan to ensure the bloc can survive without Russian gas.

“Whether it's a partial, major cut-off of Russian gas, or a total cut-off of Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready,"

The Commission is asking each member state to "do its utmost" to reduce gas consumption until March 2023 by at least 15 percent compared to the average of the last five years.

"This winter will be a test for the EU's energy system and for our Union as a whole. And it is a test that we will pass if we act with solidarity and resolve," said Energy Commissionner Kadri Simson.

Preparing for the worst

Since Europe imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Russia has begun reducing its gas deliveries to about a dozen EU countries.

EU officials say it is likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin will cut supplies off completely to the 27 member states, which would have a catastrophic effect on the European economy.

Last year, 40 per cent of the EU’s total gas came from Russia, and any further disruption to supplies that have already been reduced would push prices higher and raise the risk of a deep recession.

The EU has tried to replace Russia's supply with other sources, from the United States, Norway, Azerbaijan and Algeria.

But the International Energy Agency warned on Monday that non-Russian gas resources "are simply not going to be enough".

Brussels is, therefore, asking countries to prepare for the worst.

Households protected

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it provided 155 billion cubic metres of gas to the EU. The flow has since dropped, and a 15 per cent cut in consumption would save about 45 billion cubic metres.

Countries will have to provide detailed roadmaps by the end of September to show how they will achieve a 15 per cent reduction.

The main focus is on energy consumption by electric power companies and industry, and countries will be able to chose measures to push them to reduce, such as auctions for compensation, and limits on heating and cooling temperatures for public buildings.

Households, which are classed as “protected consumers”, and make up only 37 percent of total gas demand, would be shielded from the cuts.

The plan also asks states to "switch to nuclear power where it is an option" and advises countries wishing to abandon nuclear energy to postpone their plans.

Emergency rationing

Commissioners also asked member states to give the EU special powers to impose compulsory energy rationing if Russia cuts off Europe's gas supplies – a move that would require approval by a majority of member states.

Von der Leyen told reporters that this would only happen in the case of "a drastic reduction of Russian gas or a complete cut off of Russian gas".

Diplomats are set to discuss the plan on Friday, with the aim of approving it at an emergency meeting of energy ministers on 26 July.

The plan has faced resistance from countries, some of whom have already made contingency plans, like Poland, which has filled its gas storage to 98 per cent of capacity after Russia cut its supply in April.

(with wires)

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