Southern Europe does not want to limit gas use to aid Germany

For years, Germany did not want to limit its dependency on Russian gas. Now the rest of the EU does not want to tighten its belt to help Germany, writes Jędrzej Bielecki for the Rzeczpospolita daily

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
author: Jędrzej Bielecki

The dissent was present everywhere, but it was the Spanish who made it known.

“Unlike others we did not live beyond our means when it comes to energy imports, and we should not suffer the consequences because of it,” stated Teresa Ribera Rodríguez who is responsible for Spain’s energy policy.

Her remarks were in response to the European Commission’s proposed plan of reducing gas consumption in all EU countries by 15 percent, so that if Gazprom cuts off supplies for countries such as Germany or Italy, Europe can make up for the shortage.

On Tuesday, EU energy ministers are set to debate this proposal, and while a political consensus may be reached, countries with greater energy security who are less reliant on Russian gas will be reluctant to receive orders to reduce their gas consumption to appease Berlin and Brussels.

“It truly is a mission impossible. Not even Tom Cruise could handle this case,” said an EU diplomat involved in negotiations, reported by Politico.

The declaration by Rodríguez is a direct reference to the situation from 12 years ago when Germany referred to Europe’s South, claiming that “living beyond their means” is what got them into financial trouble.

However, today the south of Europe is in a much better situation than Germany thanks to access to gas from Algeria among others. Banking giant Goldman Sachs assessed that key branches of German manufacturing such as the chemical industry and cement production would collapse if Russia fully cut off Nord Stream 1 deliveries. The heating bill of an average EU family would increase by 65 percent to around €500 per month.

Brussels has proposed that gas consumption be limited from Aug. 1, 2022 to March 1, 2023 by 15 percent (45 billion cubic meters). At first, this initiative would be voluntary, but if the European Commission decided that the situation is critical, it would have the power to impose its stance on member countries.

The Czechs, presiding currently over the EU Council and realizing that there was no chance that such an arrangement would be approved, proposed a softened version. Specifically, it would be the EU Council, where capitals of member states are represented, that would have the final decision on whether belt-tightening was compulsory or not. It is already clear that the chances for this arrangement are slim, even though the decision will be made on Tuesday.

Other countries — Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta — were encouraged by Spain’s stance and rejected Brussels’ initial plan inspired by Germany.

Greek Energy Minister Kostas Skrekas pointed out that member states had not been consulted on the plans, and highlighted that the current president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, had been an important member of Angela Merkel’s government, which had pushed for increasing German dependency on Russian gas.

However, the most crucial was the support of Italy, where Mario Draghi’s government has collapsed, opening the way to an early election, which will most likely be won by a Eurosceptic coalition of populist parties, the Brothers of Italy and League, supported by Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia. Poland also shared doubts in a milder form, while France has not yet fully disclosed its stance.

A breakdown in the German economy would lead to a serious crisis in Poland, a key partner of Europe’s biggest economy.

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