EU countries seek exemptions to Brussels’ plans to cut gas demand

European governments are attempting to water down Brussels’ plans to push the bloc into cutting gas demand to better weather a shortage of Russian supplies this winter.

Diplomats from the 27 EU member states have been locked in negotiations since the European Commission proposed measures last week requiring countries to cut gas use by 15 percent from next month. The plan prompted bickering over the size of the target and whether Brussels had the power to make it binding. It needs to be approved by member states at a meeting of energy ministers this week.

In a draft proposal seen by the Financial Times, EU countries have suggested that, while a voluntary target could be standardized across the bloc, compulsory targets should take into account each state’s dependency on Russian gas as well as the amount they have managed to funnel into storage.

The reduction should also be less if a member state has extra gas it could supply to others in the EU either via LNG shipments or pipelines. Certain industries seen as critical to the single market should also be exempt, according to the draft.

“Member states should be free to choose the appropriate measures to achieve the demand reduction,” the draft read.

Brussels has been agonizing over how to prepare itself for a potential cut in energy supplies come winter, as Moscow weaponises gas deliveries in retaliation for European support for Kyiv in its war against Russia.

Before Moscow’s invasion, the EU was reliant on Russia for about 40 per cent, or 155bn cubic meters, of its gas but has since vowed to wean itself off these supplies by 2027.

Last week, the European Commission suggested that member states should aim to cut gas by 15 percent over the next eight months compared with the average for the same period between 2017 and 2021.

The voluntary reduction target would be made mandatory if the commission deemed the energy crisis to have become sufficiently serious or if three member states requested that it change.

But EU governments — particularly from southern European states who have typically been less reliant on Russia — complained that the commission had over-reached its powers and that a 15 percent target was too high.

According to the draft alternative proposals, at least five member states would have to request a so-called “union alert” state that would prompt targets to become binding, while a majority of countries would have to approve the demand.

It also recommends countries have an extra month until the end of October to present their “national emergency” plans to the commission.

One EU diplomat described the draft compromise as “the mother of all opt-outs” given the number of exemptions that member states could claim.

The plan will be discussed at another meeting of EU ambassadors on Monday before it is put to an emergency meeting of energy ministers on Tuesday.

Additional reporting by Sam Fleming in Brussels

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