EU countries seek legal option to stop Russian LNG imports
Brussels, March 28 (Reuters) - European Union countries agreed on Tuesday to seek a legal option to stop Russian companies sending liquefied natural gas to EU nations, by preventing Russian firms from booking infrastructure capacity.
EU countries' energy ministers proposed that new EU gas market rules should include the option for governments to temporarily stop Russian and Belarusian gas exporters from bidding up-front for capacity on the infrastructure needed to deliver LNG into Europe.
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The countries' proposal is part of their negotiating position on new EU gas market rules. It is not final and will need to be negotiated with the European Parliament - a process that can take months.
The 27-country EU has pledged to quit Russian gas in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Europe's pipeline imports of gas from Russia have plunged since the invasion, but LNG imports have increased.
Deliveries of Russian liquefied natural gas to Europe increased last year - to 22 bcm, up from around 16 bcm in 2021, according to an EU analysis seen by Reuters.
If approved, the proposal would offer member states a route to stop LNG imports from Russia without having to resort to sanctions - which are politically harder to greenlight because they need unanimous approval from all 27 EU member states.
Hungary said it could not support the EU countries' negotiating position on the law, which also includes a raft of new rules to integrate more low-carbon gases.
Countries would be able to impose the limit on Russian firms for a temporary period, so long as it does not disrupt gas flows between EU countries or endanger Europe's energy security, the document said.
EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson this month urged European companies not to sign new Russian LNG deals once their existing contracts expire. Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera made the same request to LNG importers and operators in Spain.
However, such requests are not binding, since Russian gas and LNG are not subject to EU sanctions. The EU does have a ban on seaborne crude oil and oil products imports from Russia.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett, editing by Marine Strauss, Alexandra Hudson)