Europe commits to reducing gas consumption by 15% next winter

Decision “shows member states will stand tall against any Russian attempt to divide EU using energy supplies as weapon”

“This was not a Mission Impossible! Ministers have reached a political agreement on gas demand reduction ahead of the upcoming winter” said a jubilant tweet from the Czech Republic – currently presiding over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The complete text of the agreement has not yet been published, but it is described as “a political agreement on a voluntary reduction of natural gas demand by 15% this winter. The Council regulation also foresees the possibility to trigger a ‘Union alert’ on security of supply, in which case the gas demand reduction would become mandatory”.

This last part is crucial, as it means if push comes to shove, member states are prepared to fall in line against Russian tactical aggression.

“The EU is united and solidary”, writes Czech minister of industry and trade Josef Síkela. “Today’s decision has clearly shown the member states will stand tall against any Russian attempt to divide the EU by using energy supplies as a weapon. Adopting the gas reduction proposal in record time has undoubtedly strengthened our common energy security. Saving gas now will improve preparedness. The winter will be much cheaper and easier for EU’s citizens and industry”.

Nitty-gritty as per press release from Council of European Union

Member states have essentially agreed to reduce their gas demand by 15% compared to average consumption over the past five years. 

Reductions will begin from August 1 (next Monday), ending on March 31 next year. 

Member states will be allowed to adopt “measures of their own choice”.

“Whereas all EU countries will use their best efforts to meet the reductions, the Council specified some exemptions and possibilities to request a derogation from the mandatory reduction target, in order to reflect the particular situations of member states (like Portugal, Spain and Greece) and ensure that the gas reductions are effective in increasing security of supply in the EU.

“The Council agreed that member states that are not interconnected to other member states’ gas networks are exempted from mandatory gas reductions as they would not be able to free-up significant volumes of pipeline gas to the benefit of other member states. (This clause leaves Portugal and Spain ‘in the clear’ in terms of being forced to cut supplies)

“Member states whose electricity grids are not synchronised with the European electricity system and are heavily reliant on gas for electricity production are also exempted, in order to avoid the risk of an electricity supply crisis.

“Member states can request a derogation to adapt their demand reduction obligations if they have limited interconnections to other member states and they can show that their interconnector export capacities or their domestic LNG infrastructure are used to re-direct gas to other member states to the fullest.

“Member states can also request a derogation if they have overshot their gas storage filling targets, if they are heavily dependent on gas as a feedstock for critical industries or if their gas consumption has increased by at least 8% in the past year compared to the average of the past five years.

“Member states agreed to increase the role of the Council in triggering a ‘Union alert’. The alert would be activated by a Council implementing decision, acting on a proposal from the Commission. The Commission shall present a proposal to trigger a ‘Union alert’ in case of a substantial risk of a severe gas shortage or an exceptionally high gas demand, or if five or more member states that have declared an alert at national level request the Commission to do so.

“When choosing demand reduction measures, member states agreed they should prioritise measures that do not affect protected customers such as households and essential services for the functioning of society like critical entities, healthcare and defence. Possible measures include reducing gas consumed in the electricity sector, measures to encourage fuel switch in industry, national awareness raising campaigns, targeted obligations to reduce heating and cooling and market-based measures such as auctioning between companies.

“Member states will update their national emergency plans that set out the demand reduction measures they are planning, and regularly report to the Commission on the advancement of their plans.

“The regulation is an exceptional and extraordinary measure, foreseen for a limited time. It will therefore apply for one year and the Commission will carry out a review to consider its extension in light of the general EU gas supply situation, by May 2023

“The text agreed today will be formally adopted through a written procedure. The written procedure will be launched and concluded in the days to come, following technical revisions of the text”.