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Industrial Policy

Brussels plans emergency gas rationing for EU countries

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The European Commission is preparing new emergency powers to force EU countries to reduce their gas consumption if the bloc faces devastating supply shortages in the months ahead.

The proposal is expected to be outlined alongside Wednesday’s planned communication on saving natural gas for winter, according to three EU diplomats.

Under the plan, the Commission could require binding gas consumption cuts in the event of an emergency such as a Russian gas shutoff.

The plan comes amid warnings that Russian President Vladimir Putin is weaponizing gas supplies to the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian gas exporter Gazprom has already cut or curtailed deliveries to customers in 12 countries and there are fears the Kremlin may decide not to restart the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream pipeline on July 21, after it was temporarily halted last week for routine maintenance.

EU countries have also been working to boost their stores of gas in preparation for winter. On Monday, International Energy Agency Director Fatih Birol warned that the bloc needs to significantly reduce its natural gas consumption this summer to prepare for the possibility of a winter without Russian supply.

The Commission’s plan for mandatory consumption cuts involves a legal mechanism that would allow countries to decide whether to adopt the measures by qualified majority vote. That would effectively bypass the European Parliament and deny any single country the chance to veto the plans.

The goal is to obtain country-level approval for the blueprint at the extraordinary Energy Council meeting on July 26, the three diplomats said, though the debate is still ongoing and plans remain to be finalized.

Discussions are focused on a requirement for countries to reduce their gas use by a certain amount from fall to spring. A reduction between 5 percent and 20 percent is being floated, with the expectation of a final agreement between 10 percent and 15 percent, according to two of the diplomats. 

If approved, the rules would allow the Commission to trigger the mandatory consumption cuts on its own, or upon request from at least two countries. 

A first debate on the proposal will take place at Wednesday’s Coreper I meeting with Commission Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul-Jørgensen, with technical work on the legal text quickly following, the diplomats said. 

The great challenge won’t be in the technical drafting, but in getting countries that are less vulnerable to a gas supply interruption on board with the plan, one diplomat said.

The Commission declined to comment.

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