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Gas-saving plan sought for EU

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-07-22 09:45

Presenting energy proposals in Brussels on Wednesday are (from left) European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson. DURSUN AYDEMIR/GETTY IMAGES

The European Commission on Wednesday called on the EU's 27 member states to cut their gas use by 15 percent from the start of August to cope with a possible total shutdown in supplies from Russia.

The Save Gas for a Safe Winter proposal-projected to end in March-came just a day before the Nord Stream 1 pipeline resumed gas flows from Russia. The flows came back at 40 percent of the pipeline's capacity. The pipeline had been shut from July 11 for 10 days of annual maintenance.

European Union leaders insist that Russia can switch off supply at any time and that member states must be prepared for the worst.

So far, 12 nations in the bloc have been hit with partial or total cuts in Russian gas supplies. Overall, the flow of Russian gas is now less than a third of what it was at the same time last year.

"Russia is using energy as a weapon," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels.

"Therefore, in any event, whether it is a partial or a major cut-off of Russian gas, or a total cut-off of Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready," she told a media conference in announcing the proposal.

Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans said that in the event of a complete halt to Russian supplies, the EU would most likely fail to put enough gas into storage. Without nations acting on the proposal, "next winter, the winter after next winter, the situation could be even more dire", he said.

Von der Leyen admitted that the proposal is "a big ask for the whole of the European Union, but it is necessary to protect us".

Timmermans said: "So the choice we have today is triggering solidarity now or waiting for an emergency that will force solidarity upon us, when the circumstances then will be much uglier and the response will have to be much more complicated."

Lack of consensus

Von der Leyen said while some member states are more vulnerable to disruptions in supply from Russia, all members will suffer if the EU fails to act together because of the impact on the single market, the economy and employment.

She said that the 15 percent target is equivalent to 45 billion cubic meters of gas, a reduction that can get the EU safely through this winter in case of a complete halt to Russian supplies. Russia supplied 150 bcm of gas to nations in the bloc last year.

The commission's proposal also includes activating an EU-wide emergency alert if it finds that there is a "substantial risk of a severe gas shortage", with the 15-percent target becoming mandatory in such circumstances.

The plan will be discussed by EU energy ministers at an extraordinary energy summit on July 26.

In six rounds of economic sanctions on Russia, the energy and banking sectors have been the main targets. Gas remains exempted from the sanctions.

On Wednesday, the member nations unanimously agreed to ban imports of Russian gold, including jewelry, and freeze the assets of Sberbank, Russia's largest bank. The actions comprise the bloc's seventh round of sanctions.

Later on Wednesday, Spain rejected the commission's proposal for the 15 percent gas-reduction target.

"Whatever happens, Spanish families will not have their gas or electricity cut. Whatever happens, Spain will defend the position of Spanish industry," Environment Minister Teresa Ribera was reported by the Anadolu Agency as telling a news conference.

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