Natural gas storage

EU countries push back against plans to cut gas demand

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Several European countries are seeking exemptions from the EU's proposal to cut down the use of gas in light of the continued fall in Russian supplies.

Diplomats from the 27 EU member states are currently negotiating the EU's proposals to cut down the use of natural gas throughout the bloc by 15 per cent from August 2022 to March 2023.  

However, several European governments are seeking exemptions to this plan and have raised concerns regarding the size of the target and the European Commission's ability to make the plan binding by declaring a gas supply emergency.

In a proposal drafted by the Czech Republic, which currently chairs EU country meetings, EU countries have argued that compulsory targets should take into account each state’s dependency on Russian gas as well as the amount they have managed to funnel into storage.

Moreover, the countries have requested that countries that have an additional supply of gas - such as Spain - be able to supply it to other member states either via LNG shipments or pipelines and obtain an exception to the rule. Nations without links to EU gas networks, such as Ireland and Malta, might also be left out of the targets, as well as critical industries such as chemicals and steel manufacturing. 

“Member states should be free to choose the appropriate measures to reach the demand reduction,” the draft reads.

The EU's request is an attempt on the part of the bloc to prepare for the winter amid a shortage of natural gas coming from Russia following the country's invasion of Ukraine. The lack of gas supplies has driven up the cost of energy across the continent. 

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU relied on Russia for 40 per cent of its gas. Today, flows from Russia are below 30 per cent of the 2016-2021 average, the European Commission said upon announcing the plan to reduce gas use. 

The new proposal puts national governments, rather than the Commission, in charge of the process to make the target binding, which could only be done with majority support from countries.

While some diplomats from EU countries welcomed the latest proposal as the basis for a deal, others have expressed the fear that the many exemptions would fail to adequately prepare Europe for a gas shortage in the middle of winter. 

One diplomat reportedly told Reuters said the aim was to ensure countries show solidarity by agreeing to act together while ensuring the proposal is not weakened so much that it becomes "a tiger without the teeth".

If there is a total cut in Russian gas supply from July onwards, EU states might only be able to replenish 65-71 per cent of their gas reserves per cent before winter, the commission said, quoting forecasts by European gas transmission system operators (ENTSOG).

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