BRUSSELS – European leaders meeting in Brussels this week were eager to focus on granting Ukraine the status of the European Union’s candidate, but they also had to tackle a pressing problem linked to the war: Russia was slowly turning off the gas tap.
The decreasing amount of gas delivered to Germany in recent days prompted the country, the economic engine of Europe, to escalate its emergency energy protocol and urged Germans to save energy. The next step is legalization.
European Union leaders on Friday asked the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, to come up with policy proposals to collectively deal with the possibility that Russia, using Europe’s permanent dependence on its gas supplies to inflict pain on Ukraine’s backers, could reduce gas flows or even cut off countries completely.
“We’ve seen the pattern not only in the past weeks and months, but looking back in hindsight, as well as the pattern last year, when you look at Gazprom filling storage – or should I say not filling storage, because in the last year they are,” said the commission’s chairwoman, Ursula von der Line, Friday.
“Now 12 member states are either completely or partially cut off,” she added.
Ms von der Leyen said she would ask her experts to suggest a contingency plan to address potential winter shortages. The Commission has already promoted the common purchase and storage of gas by EU members as a safety measure, should a single country’s connection be cut off. After cutting off gas supplies to Bulgaria, for example, Greece stepped in to help supply its neighbor and fellow EU member.
But if Russia decides to harm Europe with its support for Ukraine by cutting supplies from the energy giant, Gazprom, it is not at all clear that such ad hoc solidarity will work in winter, when the bloc’s energy requirements are much higher.
The European Union has imposed sanctions on Russian fossil fuels, including a broad ban on Russian oil imports that will come into effect at the end of the year. But it was not able to do the same with Russian gas, on which it depends heavily, because it has not yet lined up enough alternatives. Meanwhile, gas prices rose, costing European buyers dearly and mitigating the impact of sanctions on Russia.
Whatever solutions European leaders devise to the growing problem, they will take effect within months. For now, member states have to address the potential shortage largely on their own.
Ms von der Leyen said she was asked to present her proposals at the upcoming EU leaders summit in October, and that she expected her staff to finish drafting them in September.
In the meantime, she urged people to use less energy.
“Not only should we replace gas, but we should always take the opportunity to save energy. I cannot stress that enough,” she said, adding that Europeans could save significantly if they turn off their air conditioners in the summer and their heaters with low temperature.