European Union Announces Compromise Gas Curbs Amid Russia Supply Cuts

European Union Announces Compromise Gas Curbs Amid Russia Supply Cuts
A view shows pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 1' gas pipeline in Lubmin, Germany, on July 21, 2022. (Annegret Hilse/Reuters)
Naveen Athrappully

The European Union (EU) has announced a “voluntary reduction” of natural gas demand by 15 percent this winter in an effort to boost the region’s energy supply security while providing exemptions to nations that may not be able to meet the target.

The aim of the demand reduction is to save enough gas ahead of the winter season in order to prepare for “possible disruptions of gas supplies from Russia,” stated the European Council in a July 26 press release, while blaming Moscow for “continuously using” energy supplies as a weapon. In the eight months between Aug. 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023, EU member states, as stated, will cut gas demand by 15 percent compared with the average consumption during the past five years.

“The EU is united and solidary. Today’s decision has clearly shown the member states will stand tall against any Russian attempt to divide the EU by using energy supplies as a weapon,” said Jozef Síkela, Czech minister of industry and trade. “Adopting the gas reduction proposal in record time has undoubtedly strengthened our common energy security.”

The EU Council also specified some exemptions, as well as possible derogations from the mandatory reduction target. For example, member states are exempted if they are not interconnected to gas networks of other states, or their electricity grids are not synchronized with the European electricity system, or are states that rely heavily on gas for producing electricity.

Countries can request a derogation if they have limited interconnections to other member states, if they have overshot their gas storage filling targets, if their gas consumption has risen by 8 percent in the past year compared to the past five-year average, or if they have critical industries reliant on gas.

When cutting down natural gas demand, states will seek to ensure that such policies do not affect customers like households or essential services like defense and health care.

Hungarian Opposition, Russian Supply Cuts

Hungary voted against the EU proposal. Speaking to reporters, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the proposal “unjustifiable, useless, unenforceable, and harmful,” according to France24.

“We were the only ones to signal that we are voting no—that is, Hungary is voting no to this decree, given that this decree completely ignores the interests of the Hungarian people,” Szijjarto said.

The EU decision comes as Russia has been cutting gas supplies to Europe. In recent weeks, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that pumps gas from Russia to Germany has been running well below capacity. Earlier this month, it was shut down for 10 days of maintenance.

Gazprom, the Russian majority state-owned energy corporation, has announced stopping a turbine at Nord Stream 1 beginning 04:00 GMT on Wednesday, citing technical issues. This decision will cut down daily gas production to 20 percent, which is half the current supply level.