Commission publishes plan to cut EU dependency on Russian gas

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The European Commission published plans on Tuesday to cut EU dependency on Russian gas by two-thirds this year and end its reliance on Russian supplies of the fuel “well before 2030”. Oil and gas are particularly important for Russia, funding just over a third of its federal budget in 2021.

This plan also outlines a series of measures to respond to rising energy prices in Europe and to replenish gas stocks for next winter. Europe has been facing increased energy prices for several months, but now uncertainty on supply is exacerbating the problem.

The European Union’s dependence on energy imports has increased in recent years due to lower domestic production of non renewable energy (coal, gas, oil and nuclear), combined with stable energy demand. In 2020, the EU imported well over half (57.5%) of its energy, ranging from 97.6% for Malta to 10.5% in Estonia. In terms of energy source, 97% of oil and petroleum products, 83.6% of natural gas, and 35.8% of solid fossil fuels were not produced by the EU, but had to be imported.

The European Union executive said it would switch to alternative supplies and expand clean energy faster under the plans, which national governments will be largely responsible for implementing. “The answer to this concern for our security lies in renewable energy and diversification of supply,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said. “It’s hard, bloody hard. But it’s possible.”

Possible ban on Russian energy on EP agenda

Meanwhile, the possible ban on importation of energy from Russia was a key theme during this week’s plenary session of the European Parliament.

European Union Member States pay Russia over 600 million euro a day for its energy, making the continent heavily dependent on one country for procuring its energy supplies, EPP Chairman Manfred Weber told reporters at a press briefing, effectively meaning that European citizens are paying for the Russian war effort. “If if the brutality of war continues, a stop on coal and oil from Russia must be on the table”, he insisted, stopping short of mentioning gas in this equation. Questioned later by journalists to clarify the omission of gas, he admitted that stopping the importation of Russian gas was harder.

On the other hand, the S&D President Iratxe Garcia was coy on the options on the table, refusing to be drawn on the issue of whether sanctions should be extended to energy imports from Russia, insisting that the ultimate goal needs to be “full energy independence” and identifying “sources which make Europe less vulnerable”.

Admitting that any bans on energy importation will lead to higher prices, Weber said that the EU should contribute to stabilise energy prices in the Union, particularly through a reconsideration of the 750 billion euro budget for the Recovery and Resilience Fund.

This morning Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the country is facing a problem sourcing LPG, the type of gas used to light heaters and run ovens.

The Commission said gas and liquefied natural gas from countries like the United States and Qatar could this year replace more than a third, 60 billion cubic metres (bcm), of the 155 bcm Europe gets annually from Russia. By 2030, increased biomethane and hydrogen use could also help.

The EU will also propose rules by April requiring EU countries to fill gas storage to 90% by Oct. 1 each year. EU storage is currently 27% full. Europe has enough storage and alternative gas supplies for this winter, but analysts say a prolonged halt to Russian imports would hit Europe’s economy and require emergency measures such as factory closures.

CDE News / Reuters

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