EU plan to curb gas use faces opposition from countries

·2-min read
Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 1' gas pipeline

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Union proposal that member countries cut gas use by 15% to prepare for possible supply cuts from Russia is facing resistance from governments, throwing into doubt whether they will approve the emergency plan.

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday that all 27 EU countries use 15% less gas from August to March compared with the average over the last five years. The target would be voluntary, but the EU could make it mandatory if Brussels declares a substantial risk of gas shortages.

At a meeting of EU national diplomats on Wednesday, at least 12 of the 27 member states raised concerns about the proposal, five EU officials with knowledge of the meeting told Reuters.

The main sticking point is whether the EU should have the power to make the targets binding. Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal were among the states that said Brussels should not be able to do this without first giving countries a say - and possibly a veto.

"Member states want to have the ability to trigger crisis mechanisms themselves. This is not something they're very keen on giving away to the Commission," one EU official said.

Under the proposal, the Commission would consult the bloc's Gas Coordination Group of country representatives before making the target mandatory.

National diplomats will discuss it on Friday, with the aim that their energy ministers approve it at an emergency meeting on Tuesday. It needs approval from a reinforced majority of at least 15 EU countries to become law.

EU countries are racing to fill their gas storage ahead of winter and Brussels has warned that without deeper cuts to gas use now, some will struggle for fuel in colder months if Russia completely cuts supply - a scenario the Commission says is likely.

A dozen EU countries have been hit by reduced gas flows from Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.

Yet so far, EU countries have cut their combined gas demand by just 5%, despite months of dwindling Russian supplies and soaring prices, EU energy policy chief Kadri Simson said on Wednesday.

Still, some countries say imposing the same target on every country is not the right approach. They include Spain and Portugal - who do not count Russia among their main gas suppliers - and Hungary, whose government this month ordered an export ban on gas.

Portuguese Energy Secretary Joao Galamba said on Thursday the country was "totally against" the EU plan.

"It does not take into account the differences between countries," he told newspaper Expresso, warning that a forced gas cut amid low Iberian hydropower production could cause power cuts.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and David Evans)

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