The plan, approved by energy ministers in Brussels, will see exceptions and carve-outs as some EU countries blanched at making too deep a sacrifice for Berlin and a few landlocked member states.
But Hungary was the only member state to oppose the plan, which passed on a majority vote, and the ministers’ Council of the European Union hailed the deal as a victory for EU unity.
“In an effort to increase EU security of energy supply, member states today reached a political agreement on a voluntary reduction of natural gas demand by 15 percent this winter,” the council said.
“The Council regulation also foresees the possibility to trigger a ‘Union alert’ on security of supply, in which case the gas demand reduction would become mandatory,” the statement continued.
“The purpose of the gas demand reduction is to make savings ahead of winter in order to prepare for possible disruptions of gas supplies from Russia that is continuously using energy supplies as a weapon.”
Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, is hugely dependent on Russian gas and remains at the mercy of the supply from Gazprom for the years still needed to find alternative sources.
“It is true that, Germany with its dependence on Russian gas, has made a strategic mistake but our government is working… to correct this,” Germany’s economy minister Robert Habeck said as he arrived.
France said showing solidarity with Berlin would help in turn protect all of Europe, even though Germany takes a major share of the 40 percent of EU gas imports that came from Russia last year.
“Our industrial chains are completely interdependent: if the chemical industry in Germany coughs, the whole of European industry could come to a halt,” said French minister for energy transition, Agnes Pannier-Runacher.
The plan asks member states to voluntarily reduce gas use by 15 percent – based on a five-year average for the months in question – starting next month and over the subsequent winter through March.
Czech industry minister Jozef Sikela, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the plan would deliver a strong answer to state-run Gazprom’s plan to cut gas deliveries to Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “will continue to play his dirty games in misusing and blackmailing gas supplies,” Sikela said.
Gazprom has said it is cutting daily gas deliveries to about 20 percent of capacity from Wednesday.
The EU member countries had already rejected an earlier European Commission proposal to give Brussels — rather than the member states — the power to impose gas use cuts in an emergency.
And the 15-percent target will also be adapted to the situation of each country through a series of exemptions, taking into account their level of stocks and whether or not they have pipelines to share gas.
“Nobody challenges the need for solidarity, but the means of solidarity can be very different and the initial proposal was not necessarily the most effective approach,” Spain’s minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera Rodriguez, said.
Exceptions are planned for island states such as Ireland, Cyprus or Malta and countries, such as Spain or Portugal, with limited links to the
interconnected gas supply grid.
Gazprom said Monday that it was halting the operation of one of the last two operating turbines due to the “technical condition of the engine”, but Simson dismissed this claim.
“We know that there is no technical reason to do so,” she said.
“This is a politically motivated step and we have to be ready for that and exactly for that reason the pre-emptive reduction of our gas demand is a wise strategy.”
By Daniel ARONSSOHN, Dave CLARK