The EU Commission is discussing plans to get emergency powers that would allow it to impose block-wide gas rationing from August to May.
Details of a proposal to the Council should be finalised at the Commission meeting held today, July 20th, the last meeting before the summer break.
Politico reports that according to the meeting documents, the Commission wants to be able to trigger gas rationing for all member states “at any time.” It would also require all member states to update their voluntary gas rationing plans.
The gas cuts allowed to be imposed could be anywhere from 5% to 20%, but according to Politico’s sources they are expected to land at 10% to 15%.
The measure is being taken under provision in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Article 122 of the treaty reads:
The Council, on a proposal from the Commission, may decide, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, upon the measures appropriate to the economic situation, in particular if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products, notably in the area of energy.
Under the treaty’s mechanism, the Council’s approval, by qualified majority, is all that is required for it to pass. The EU Parliament is merely informed of the Council’s decision.
The measure could be approved within days, as an extraordinary Energy Council meeting is set for July 26th.
Additionally, Politico reports businesses deemed “nonessential”—mentioned in the commission’s documents as the ceramics, glass, and chemicals industries, but could also include local bakeries in some places—could be given subsidies to temporarily power down voluntarily. In the worst case scenario, they could also be first in line to have their gas cut.
Emergency powers or not, the possibility of an in-extremis energy emergency is looming ever closer.
Pipeline by pipeline and country by country, Russia has been cutting off gas to Europe since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, and Europe has yet to find adequate alternatives.
The important Nord Stream pipeline that provides gas to Germany and other parts of Eastern Europe has been temporarily shut down by Russia on the grounds that it needed maintenance for the last week. It is set to come back online on Thursday, July 22nd, but EU leaders are doubtful of such an optimistic outcome.
“We’re working on the assumption that it doesn’t return to operation,” European Budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn told reporters in Singapore on Tuesday, July 19th, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Commission’s emergency measure power grab does face opposition, particularly by Eastern European countries. This comes as no surprise, as previous calls by the Commission for voluntary solidarity agreements between member states have gone largely unheeded.
Germany has been happy to acquiesce in this regard, but not so Poland or Hungary.
“We are against imposing mandatory reduction targets,” said Polish Climate Minister Anna Moskwa.
Poland is now facing a domestic coal shortage as sanctions on Russian coal imports go into effect, but it has no intention of further jeopardising its domestic energy flow to help out its neighbours.
Moskwa further stated that “the solidarity mechanism must not lead to a reduction in the energy security of any member state.” Politico reports that Poland has not made any solidarity arrangements with its neighbours, according to Commission records.
Hungary has been more explicit. Viktor Orbán’s government announced that its energy emergency plans will prohibit exporting gas beginning in August. It has rejected solidarity.
Portugal and Spain have been showing accidental solidarity with France, as the “Iberian exception,” which allows the two countries to place a limit on energy prices while permitting France to buy cheaper Iberian electricity. But it would be difficult for Iberia, which does not rely on Russian gas, to directly share natural gas with France as the infrastructure is lacking.
Despite objections and reservations, the measure could easily get the council’s approval.