Solidarity from all member states is necessary to avoid a looming natural gas shortage in the EU this winter, to which end the European Commission presented its own proposals Wednesday, European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson (Center) said on Thursday.
"Yesterday's proposal is our great effort to achieve a solution built on solidarity," Simson said on Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" on Thursday regarding the Commission's proposal, which still needs to be approved by the EU's member states.
"Yesterday's proposal says that we'll be rid of Russian gas in such a way that we won't even need that final third [of gas still being supplied by Russia]," she continued. "But this proposal also entails that all 27 member states of the EU voluntarily reduce their gas consumption by 15 percent compared with that of the previous five years."
According to the commissioner, solidarity on this front also means that those member states who have never bought natural gas in any amount from Russia before must reduce their consumption as well, thus freeing up freely traded liquefied natural gas (LNG) that can then be utilized by those who were 100 percent dependent on Russian gas.
The proposal is expected to be approved at an extraordinary meeting of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, i.e. EU member states' energy ministers, on July 26, where according to Simson, the Committee intends to do everything in its power to explain the need for such solidarity.
"Because without solidarity, the Russian will get what he wants — he'll simply use his power of extortion and break up our common market," she said. "But these talks are going to be difficult, since we're also asking for solidarity from those who haven't actually designed their economies around cheap Russian gas."
Asked why the EU doesn't just confront Russia and decide for itself what price it will pay for Russian gas, Simson replied, "That requires a consensus that doesn't currently exist among member states that no one will buy gas. That would mean gas sanctions, which require unanimity."
More gas stocks than this time last year
Regarding the current situation on the European gas market, Simson noted that this spring, the obligation was imposed on EU member states to fill their underground natural gas storage facilities to at least 80 percent capacity by November 1.
"Currently, European-wide gas stocks are even better supplied than they were this time last year — we're nearing 65 percent," she said. "But it's clear that if and when Russian supplies are fully cut off, it will be very difficult to continue filling gas storage facilities without us already having reduced consumption over the summer. Otherwise it could happen that [member states] start tapping their reserves to cover their additional needs."
Gas storage facilities need to be filled up, as Europe's natural gas consumption increases by 40 percent during the heating season. In many countries, natural gas is the primary source of heat for residential buildings, and during the winter heating season, LNG terminals and alternative gas pipelines can't keep up with European demand.
Simson explained that while little by little, Russia has reduced its supply of gas to Europe, the latter has thus far managed to replace Russian gas volumes with equivalent alternatives.
"Compared with last year, we've received 21 billion cubic meters more LNG from our international partners," the commissioner said. "The U.S. has been our biggest supporter, but others have as well. Moreover, we've received 14 billion cubic meters more pipeline gas as well. All of our other alternative partners that are linked with Europe — Norway, Algeria, Azerbaijan — have significantly increased their capacities. That means that thus far, we haven't actually had any disruption of supply yet. Everything that disappeared from Russia has been replaced by an alternative."
Nonetheless, she acknowledged that once Russian gas supplies are fully cut off, the EU's other partners won't be able to increase their own production capacities overnight.
"They've already done the best they can do, and it takes years to establish new gas fields," Simson said. "So conserving or actually, in this difficult situation, changing fuel sources where it's possible to use an alternative to natural gas, is the solution for this winter, and very many member states have done so."
She also said that the European Commission's recommendation to reduce natural gas consumption by 15 percent won't affect Estonia, Latvia or even Finland, as they have already done so.
Every member state can make its own decisions regarding its natural gas cutbacks, Simson stressed. "Decisions regarding what and which sectors will be used to reduce [natural gas consumption] will remain up to the member state," she said. "We will not be telling [anyone] that you need to reduce room temperatures to 20 degrees here or you need to put the ceramics industry on hold there. That will be a local decision. But I believe the general message regarding solidarity is necessary, and it brings to mind the EU-wide response when the COVID crisis began."
Editor: Aili Vahtla