Opposition mounts to EU gas rationing plan
A number of EU member states mostly in south Europe have spoken out against the European Commission's proposal to reduce gas consumption by 15% from August until the end of March this year, exposing cracks in EU solidarity over energy policy amid the ongoing crisis.
The emergency measure is being widely perceived as a way to assist Germany, should Russia close down the Nord Stream pipeline in the future. The IMF has warned that a full suspension in Russian gas supply to Europe would shave 1.5% off the GDP of Germany, the continent's largest economy. Other countries significantly dependent on Russian gas, such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, could see their GDP shrink by up to 6%, the IMF has said.
Under its Save Gas for a Safe Winter plan, the European Commission has called on all consumers, from public administration, households and owners of public buildings, to power suppliers and industry, to help deliver on the reduction. Brussels has also proposed giving itself emergency powers to impose mandatory cuts on member states if the risk of a gas shortage is considered acute.
Ministers in Poland, Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Greece have already voiced their opposition. Spain and Portugal rely very little on Russian gas and have limited connection to the rest of the European gas system. Furthermore, the Iberian Peninsula is experiencing significant drought which has diminished its hydroelectric power generation.
"We will defend European values, but we won't accept a sacrifice regarding an issue that we have not even been allowed to give our opinion on," Spanish ecological transition minister Teresa Ribera said, according to AP.
"No matter what happens, Spanish families won't suffer cuts to gas or to the electricity to their homes," she said. "[The measure] would serve for nothing if the gas that could not be used by Spanish industries could not then later be used by the homes or industries of other countries."
Portuguese energy secretary Joao Galamba dismissed the measure as both "unsustainable" and "disproportionate."
"The whole logic behind rationing presupposes interlinked [European gas] systems, and it appears the European Commission forgot about that," he told Portuguese newspaper Publico.
Similarly Cyprus, as an island nation, believes it should not apply to the country until it is "directly interconnected with the EU's natural gas network," a Cypriot official told Politico on July 21.
Greece relies on Russia for 40% of its gas, but is yet to experience any disruption in supply, and also enjoys access to both LNG and pipeline gas from Azerbaijan
"The Greek government does not agree in principle with the EU proposal for a 15% reduction in gas usage," government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told Reuters.
Poland, even though it lost its Russian gas supply earlier this year, has filled its gas storage to 98% and is reluctant to share these reserves with other member states that have failed to amount such stockpiles.
France has not publicly stated opposition to the plan, although its energy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said on July 20 that "we must anticipate and co-ordinate our actions before fixing targets that are the same for everyone," the Financial Times reported.
Many of the southern EU member states opposed to the plan have bitter memories of the hardship they endured as a result of the bloc's call for financial solidarity during the 2015 debt crisis, particularly Greece. Under EU rules, the proposal must be approved by either 55% of EU countries or by governments representing 65% of the bloc's population. It will be decided at an emergency meeting of energy ministers next week.