The European Union announced a tentative plan to ration energy in the fall and winter, owing the move to expected further cuts to Russian-supplied fuel. The pivotal Nordstream pipeline from Russia to Germany had its supply capacity cut to only 20% by the owner of the pipeline, the Russian oil monopoly Gazprom. The deal would see European Union member states aim for a reduction in energy usage of 15% between August and March, an aim which would become a demand, should the flow of Russian oil completely stop at any time.
Beginning of the end?
At the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, European Union leaders almost immediately began to target Russian oil exports for overarching sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy. Countries around the EU began to unveil plans for partial or complete independence from Russian oil, most of these plans seeing the beginning of 2023 as the date of complete voluntary cutoff from Russian energy sources. As alternatives, European nations looked to both renewable and non-renewable sources of energy to offset the missing Russian oil. European nations also signed energy deals with Western partners, such as the United States and Canada, as well as other countries such as Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, who would export oil to the hard-hit European Union. Now, the European Union announced a plan to cut gas usage during the fall and winter as the threat of a total shutoff of Russian fuel looms. The new plan, agreed to by member states on Tuesday, July 26, would aim for a reduction in all energy usage by 15%. The plan does however have many exceptions in place for certain member states, as well as key industries in Europe who will not be able to ration their energy usage. Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia had supplied more than 40% of all EU gas.
A Weakened Plan with many Exceptions
Although the strength of the plan was hailed by some European Union leaders, the plan also includes many exceptions for certain member states and key industries. The member states of Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus are all exempt from the plan as they are not connected to the EU energy network. Furthermore, countries which export their own oil to other EU member states, such as Spain and Italy, would also have lower energy rationing goals. Roberto Cingolani, Italian Ecological Transition Minister, said that his country’s ration plan would see a reduction of around 7%, instead of the EU-wide goal of 15%. Furthermore, some of the EU’s eastern member states were unhappy with the plan. Hungary outright rejected the rationing plan and Poland’s Climate Minister, Anna Moskwa, said that no country should be forced to use less gas in order to help other states; this despite Poland approving the EU ration plan. Some industries are also exempt from rationing, including steel manufacturing, which is an industry that uses an exceptionally high amount of oil due to the production method involved in making steel. This industry, one of Germany’s largest, has been the cause of much controversy within Germany, exactly for its high rate of oil usage. Despite the exceptions and some pessimism, some EU leaders were optimistic about the success of the plan. Kadri Simson, EU Energy Chief, said that the agreement should ensure countries have enough gas to survive a long winter, even if Gazprom and the Russians completely cut Europe off from the Russian gas supply. The energy secretaries of Malta and Portugal also commended the plan as a true showing of solidarity. But perhaps the most praise came from outside the EU. Members of the Ukrainian government embraced the plan as an important show of solidarity in the face of what Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called “price terror” from Russia. President Zelenskyy has been urging the European Union to completely cut itself off from Russian oil, a source of income which Kyiv says is vital for Russia to continue their invasion of the country. Only time will tell if the plan to cut fuel will really be enough to sustain Europe this fall and winter in the face of a potential shutoff of Russian fuel and if the solidarity between member states will hold when faced with intense energy shortages.