EU agrees plan to ration gas use over Russia supply fears

The landfall facility of the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline and the transfer station of the OPAL gas pipeline in Lubmin, Germany. Credit: AP

EU energy ministers have agreed to ration gas this winter as the bloc's member states attempt to avoid an energy crisis generated by further Russian cuts to supply.

On Tuesday EU members approved a proposal for all the bloc's countries to voluntarily reduce gas use by 15% from August to March.

Under the agreement, which only Hungary opposed, gas demand reduction would become mandatory if supplies reach crisis levels.

Countries such as Ireland and Malta that are not connected to other member states' gas networks will be exempted from the binding 15% gas cut.

The gas storage plant Reckrod is pictured near Eiterfeld, central Germany. Credit: AP

Those with a limited capacity to export gas to other EU countries, such as Spain, can ask for a lower target, provided they export what they can.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the proposal, saying in a statement that “the EU has taken a decisive step to face down the threat of a full gas disruption by Putin.” "You will not split us," German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said, adding that the agreement was a show of European unity in the face of Moscow's latest gas cuts.

His comments came after Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would limit supplies to the EU through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of capacity, heightening concerns that Putin will use gas trade to challenge the bloc’s opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Gazprom has cut gas supplies altogether to Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Poland over their refusal to go along with a Kremlin order to pay their bills in roubles and not dollars or euros.

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Russia, which supplied around 40% of EU gas before it invaded Ukraine, has been accused by Kyiv of waging a "gas war" against Europe and cutting supplies to inflict "terror" on people.

Although it has agreed to embargo oil and coal from Russia starting later this year, the EU has refrained from sanctioning Russian natural gas because Germany, Italy and some other member states rely heavily on these imports.

While Tuesday's proposal was hailed by many ministers as a success, some countries raised concern that the savings would not be enough to avert a winter shortage. "15% will probably not be enough, given what the Russians have just announced," Irish Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said.