Brussels has asked EU countries to cut their gas use by 15 per cent and set out emergency plans ahead of winter when it anticipates severe disruption to gas supplies from Russia.
The European Commission on Wednesday said the 15 per cent reduction in gas consumption should last between August 1 and the end of March next year, compared with the average in the same period over the past five years.
The plan comes as Russian president Vladimir Putin, speaking in Tehran, signalled that gas would start flowing again through a crucial pipeline to Europe, but at a reduced rate. The pipeline, Nord Stream 1, is still closed for maintenance until Thursday. Europe has been on tenterhooks waiting to see whether Russia would restart flows of gas through the pipeline as planned.
“Gazprom fulfils its obligations, has always fulfilled them and wants to continue to fulfil them,” Putin said late on Tuesday, in comments reported by Interfax. But he added that depended on whether a vital turbine that had been serviced in Canada but was blocked by western sanctions is returned to Russia. If it did not arrive, Nord Stream 1’s throughput capacity would be reduced. “Then there will only be 30 million cubic metres a day,” he said.
The pipeline can transport as much as 167mn cubic metres a day.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that “the turbine is already in transit back so there is no pretext not to deliver gas”.
Should the gas supply situation deteriorate, the commission put forward proposals that would allow it to declare an “EU alert” that would make the proposed gas cuts binding. EU capitals will be expected to report on their progress towards the target every two months and set out “national emergency plans” by September to show how gas use will be reduced.
The EU said it aimed to “safeguard supply to households and essential users like hospitals” and industries that are critical to cross-border supply chains. The plan also outlined that member states should prioritise switching fuels to renewables or coal, oil or nuclear power if needed and suggested that EU capitals could mandate limiting heating and cooling in public buildings.
Brussels has been working to secure non-Russian imports of gas to offset further cuts by Moscow, which provided about 40 per cent of the EU’s gas in 2021 and has already decreased gas deliveries to at least 12 EU countries.
Even before the maintenance on Nord Stream 1 began, Russia had reduced the amount of gas it was pumping through the pipeline by 60 per cent, citing technical reasons connected to the absence of the turbine.