The governments of the European Union decided on Tuesday to cut back on their use of natural gas this winter to safeguard themselves against any future supply restrictions by Russia. However, after reaching compromise agreements, certain nations will be excluded from the policy.
EU energy ministers agreed upon a new European regulation intended to reduce the demand for gas by 15% from August through March.
“I know that the decision was not easy, but I think, at the end, everybody understands that this sacrifice is necessary. We have to, and we will, share the pain,” Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela said after serving as the chairperson for the Brussels meeting.
The move comes after Russian gas giant Gazprom announced last Wednesday it would reduce flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to 20% capacity.
Natural gas prices increased on Tuesday to their highest level since early March and are now more than five times what they were a year ago, according to Europe’s TTF benchmark.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, praised the agreement, saying that “the EU has taken a decisive step to face down the threat of a full gas disruption” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus — countries that are not linked to the gas networks of other member states and hence cannot exchange excess gas in the event of a supply shortage — would be spared from the legally required 15% gas cut under the EU agreement.
Spain, which does not rely on Russian gas and initially rejected the EU proposal, is one of those countries.
“Everyone understands that when someone asks for help, you have to help,” Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said on Tuesday.
The law calls for voluntary national actions to cut gas use, but the 27-member bloc would have to take forced measures if those are inadequate.
If the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, continues to worry about a supply deficit in the following eight months, it could urge members to consider initiating a forced reduction system. Any of the five member nations might also call for a vote if they issue a national gas supply alarm.
The energy ministers removed a clause in the draft bill that would have given the European Commission authority to decide on any transition from voluntary to mandatory acts. The ministers clarified that national governments would continue to have the final say over any obligatory action.
Tuesday’s agreement was a significant step toward converging EU policy and crisis management. Previous EU legislative efforts in the energy sector sometimes required months or years of discussions between national governments.
“We have a blueprint to act together in a coordinated way,” EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said after closing the deal. “This was a test for the unity and resolve of the union.”