EU asks nations to cut gas by 15% until spring fearing abrupt Russian cut-off

Brussels calls for voluntary reduction in gas so as not to trigger mandatory Union Alert, accusing Russia of weaponising gas exports

Climate commissioner Frans Timmermans (left) and EC president Ursula von der Leyen at the Commissioners College, 20 July 2022
Climate commissioner Frans Timmermans (left) and EC president Ursula von der Leyen at the Commissioners College, 20 July 2022

The European Union is facing the risk of an abrupt cut in gas supply from Russia, president Ursula von der Leyen said, accusing Russia of weaponing gas exports.

With almost half of EU states affected by reduced has deliveries, Brussels has called on all European capitals warning against a potential full cut-off of Russian gas and to voluntary reduce gas consumption.

“We have to prepare for a full disruption of Russian gas... it is a likely scenario that there will be a full cut-off, and this would affect every single member state in the EU powerhouse,” Von der Leyen said, days after having clinched new supply agreements for gas from Algeria and Azerbaijan.

The EC today proposed a new, legislative tool and a European Gas Demand Reduction Plan, to reduce gas use in Europe by 15% until next spring.

The emergency regulation sets a target for all member states to voluntarily reduce gas demand by 15% between 1 August 2022 and 31 March 2023. “I know this is a big ask for the whole of the EU but it is necessary to protect us,” Von der Leyen said.

But the EC could also declare, after consulting European governments, a ‘Union Alert' on security of supply, and then impose a mandatory gas demand reduction. The Union Alert can be triggered when there is a substantial risk of a severe gas shortage or an exceptionally high gas demand.

Gas flows from Russia to the Baltic countries, Poland, Bulgaria, and Finland have completely stopped, while supply to Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy has been recently reduced – prompting the EU executive to argue that “there is no reason to believe this pattern will change.”

Under the ‘Save Gas for a Safe Winter’ plan, the EC will try to recover a shortfall of 30-40 billion cubic metres of gas. “This would bring us safely through the winter – the quicker the act, the more we save, the safer we are,” Von der Leyen said. “All member states will suffer the consequences of a disruption of the single market if gas is cut off, which is why all member states should contribute to the saving and storing of gas; energy solidarity is a core principle of our Treaty.”

Vice-president and climate commissioner Frans Timmermans said consumers and businesses should understand the ramifications of reducing consumption of fossil fuels ahead of Europe’s transition to renewables.

“Do we need to have the lights on in empty buildings and offices, or shopfronts at night? Do we need to have our air-conditioners set at 20-degrees? Of course it might reduce a bit of our comfort, but it might reduce a lot of our consumption. None of it will be easy, but if we act now we have a choice and we can remain masters of our destiny – if we give up a few comforts today, we avoid a full-blown crisis next winter,” Timmermans said.

What exact measures and criteria are Member States advised to put in place to reduce gas demand?

Private households fall within the definition of “protected customers” under the existing EU security of supply regulation. They would be the last to be affected by shortages and in absence of other unforeseen events, they would not be impacted directly by large scale disruptions from Russia.

But households play a very important role in reducing unnecessary consumption and avoiding waste of energy, and are encouraged to lower their heating or cooling, air drying laundry, switching off unnecessary lights, and improving home insulation where possible. Individual steps, when taken together, add up to significant savings: a lower thermostat temperature for heating alone can save up to 10 bcm of gas per year.

The Gas Demand Reduction Plan underlines the potential savings from reduced demand for heating and cooling – for example through information campaigns or by limiting heating and cooling, especially in large buildings, and avoiding outdoor terrace heating.

The plan hinges on the principle of solidarity. Each member state will have to reduce its national gas consumption to contribute to address a gap between supply and demand in the EU, irrespective of where that gap emerges or is the worst.

Measures will be designed at the national level.

In a situation of emergency, effective and prompt solidarity would be greatly facilitated by having bilateral solidarity agreements foreseen under the Regulation on gas security of supply in place, clarifying the technical, legal and financial arrangements to provide gas to the legally protected customers of neighbouring countries in case of crisis.