European Union member states reached an agreement in Brussels on Tuesday on an emergency proposal to reduce gas consumption as concerns grow that Russia might ultimately cut off already reduced deliveries. The agreement was announced by the Czech Republic, which is currently heading the EU’s rotating presidency. “This was not a mission impossible!” the Czech presidency wrote on Twitter. The extraordinary meeting comes as Russia continues to reduce gas deliveries into the EU, which had depended on Russian gas for 40% of its supply before the invasion of Ukraine in late February. Although Russia has cited technical reasons for the reduction, many in the EU see the move as a weaponization of energy supplies in response to Western sanctions on Moscow over the invasion.
The battles over the proposal began when countries which do not have a heavy reliance on Russian gas, like Spain and Portugal, started raising concerns about what the 15% reduction would mean for their citizens. “To be politically viable in a context of looming gas shortages, high energy prices and overall recession risks, EU energy solidarity needs to be realistically arranged,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at the economics think tank Bruegel, told DW. Those countries have been placated with a number of exemptions and derogations. Countries which are not connected to others’ gas networks like the island nations of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus are exempt and nations can drop out of the responsibilities if they are overshooting their storage targets. “The EU needs to establish a compensation mechanism aimed at providing fair payments to EU-relevant gas supply and demand options made available by certain countries to the most vulnerable ones,” Tagliapietra said. “Now is not the moment to revive an old South-North split and allow Putin’s divide-and-rule strategy to work.” Hungary — the EU’s most pro-Russia country — was the only member state to vote against the agreement. Indeed, last week, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto went to Moscow to try to secure an increase in their supply of Russian gas. When asked about Hungary, Czech Deputy Prime Minister Jozef Sikela told reporters in Brussels he did not want to discuss the position of single state. “We have a clear alignment, clear solidarity, and we want to send a clear signal to the world and to the Kremlin,” he said.
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