The European Union’s headquarters proposed on Wednesday that member countries reduce their gas consumption by 15% in the coming months as the bloc braces for a possible full Russian cutoff of natural gas supplies, which could add a significant chill to the upcoming winter.
While the initial cuts would be voluntary, the Commission also requested the authority to impose mandatory cuts across the EU in the event of an EU-wide emergency caused by what Commission President Ursula von der Leyen saw as President Vladimir Putin’s deliberate attempt to weaponize gas exports.
“Russia is threatening us. Russia employs energy as a weapon. “As a result, whether it’s a partial major cutoff of Russian gas or a total cutoff of Russian gas, Europe must be prepared,” von der Leyen said.
The measures will be discussed by EU member states at an emergency meeting of energy ministers next Tuesday. National capitals would have to consider ceding some of their power over energy policy to Brussels in order for them to be approved.
Saving 15% on gas consumption between August and next March will not be easy. The European Commission indicated that its proposed target would require EU countries to triple the rationing achieved so far since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
Wednesday’s proposal comes at a time when the International Monetary Fund has issued a blog post warning about the 27-nation bloc’s weaknesses.
Italy, which already has serious economic problems, “would face significant consequences.”
According to EU economic forecasts released last week, Russia’s war in Ukraine is expected to disrupt economic recovery for the foreseeable future, with lower annual growth and record-high inflation. Disruptions in Russian energy trade threaten to send the EU into recession just as it is recovering from a pandemic-induced slump. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has approved bans on Russian coal and most oil, which will go into effect later this year, but not natural gas, because the EU’s 27-nation bloc relies on gas to power factories, generate electricity, and heat homes. Von der Leyen is now convinced that Putin will cut gas anyway in order to cause economic and political havoc in Europe this winter.
There are concerns that the energy crisis will worsen if Moscow does not restart the crucial Nord Stream pipeline to Germany after scheduled maintenance concludes on Thursday. On Wednesday, Putin left everyone scratching their heads.
The Russian president questioned the quality of the Nord Stream 1 turbine repair work. “They say that they will return these machines — one, in any case — but in what capacity they will return, what are the technical parameters after leaving this scheduled repair? Maybe they will take it and turn it off at some point, and Nord Stream 1 will stop,” he said.
Von der Leyen’s plans aim to ensure that essential industries and services, such as hospitals, can continue to operate while others must cut back. Lowering the temperature in public buildings and enticing families to use less energy at home are two examples.
The EU and the Commission have gone on a buying spree to diversify its natural gas sources away from Russia, but they are expected to fall far short of providing enough energy to businesses and homes during the cold months.
Russia has cut off or reduced gas supplies to a dozen EU countries, and there are fears that the energy crisis will worsen if Moscow does not restart a critical pipeline to Germany after scheduled maintenance concludes on Thursday.
The energy crisis is also resurrecting long-dormant political issues in Europe. While the EU has gained centralized authority over monetary, trade, antitrust, and agricultural policies, national capitals have jealously guarded their energy-related powers.
The European Commission has spent decades chipping away at this bulwark of national sovereignty, leveraging previous supply disruptions to secure incremental gains in EU clout. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has lasted five months, is now the most severe test of whether member countries are willing to cede more of their energy powers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, member states worked together to develop and purchase vaccines in massive quantities, an unprecedented show of unity in the health sector.