With tensions growing over the war in Ukraine and Russia’s energy cuts, the European Union’s executive arm is calling on member nations to cut natural gas consumption by 15% between August and next March to avoid what it calls energy ‘blackmail” — and its potentially catastrophic economic fallout.
The EU’s executive branch wants the 15% cuts to be across the board and, for now, voluntary, but seeks the power to make the reductions mandatory if Moscow deeply or completely cuts its gas exports to the bloc.
“We have to be proactive. We have to prepare for a potential full disruption of Russian gas,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “And this is a likely scenario. What we’ve seen in the past, as we know, Russia is calculatingly trying to put pressure on us by reducing the supply of gas.”
Russia’s Gazprom has already partly or fully cut supplies to nearly a dozen of the EU’s 27 members, as Brussels tightens sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine. Already, the International Monetary Fund says, even this partial cutoff is hurting European economies.
More recently, Gazprom shut its key Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany and beyond, ostensibly for short-term maintenance. It’s unclear if the pipeline will resume operation. Brussels wants member states to prepare for the worst.
“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon,” von der Leyen said.
Last year, Russia provided 40% of the EU’s total gas. Since Moscow invaded Ukraine in late February, the bloc has been seeking to diversify supply sources. But experts say that won’t be enough to meet its energy needs. Countries like Finland and the Netherlands are already cutting consumption.
While proposed cuts cover European industries, Brussels wants ordinary citizens and others to save energy — especially as climate change fears hit home this week, with record-breaking heatwaves in some parts of Europe.
Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said a new creative approach is needed.
“Do we need to have the lights on in empty office buildings or shop fronts all nights? he asked. “Do we have to have air conditioning set at 20 degrees (68 degrees Fahrenheit)? It could be higher, couldn’t it?”
Still, some of Brussels’ proposals, like diversifying gas sources and extending coal plants, will inject more emissions into the air in the short term. EU member states still need to approve the commission’s proposals. Energy ministers will discuss them next week.