Can Germany count on the help of other EU partners with gas in the coming autumn and winter if Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to curb deliveries as before? This Tuesday, solidarity within the EU is once again on the agenda at the meeting of energy ministers in Brussels – and things are not looking good.
More than almost any other EU country, Germany has become fatally dependent on Russia when it comes to gas. Since it cannot be ruled out that Putin will soon completely cut supplies to the Europeans, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has devised an emergency plan that is intended to benefit Germany in particular.
Originally, their plan envisaged obliging all EU countries to reduce gas consumption by 15 percent by next March in an emergency. But in view of the outcry in many member countries, it is becoming apparent that there will be a number of exceptions. There are good reasons for that.
It was clear that Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, as a perennial obstructionist and Putin friend, would not believe in the European solidarity plan for gas. But there are also serious concerns from countries like Spain. It is quite understandable that the country, which, unlike Germany, has largely freed itself from dependence on Russian gas, does not support von der Leyen’s emergency plan.
In addition, gas consumption in Spain is low due to the local climatic conditions and the comparatively low industrial demand. So why would Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera agree to the Brussels plan?
The example of Spain also shows the extent to which there is a lack of a common network for the joint supply of the EU states should Russia fail completely as an exporter. Spain has hardly any pipeline connections to the north, but the country has built large storage capacities for liquid gas, also with the help of European subsidies. In Germany, on the other hand, it is well known that the infrastructure for importing liquefied gas first has to be set up.
There are also pipeline connections between Austria and Germany. But as a precautionary measure, Vienna’s energy minister Leonore Gewessler has already announced that a gas storage facility in Haidach, Austria, which has so far been of great importance for supplying Bavaria, will be tapped for the benefit of the local population.
There is a risk of repeating a crisis-exacerbating pattern of national solo efforts that made the EU look like a bunch of small-minded egoists at the beginning of the corona pandemic.
However, the impending emergency cannot be averted by austerity measures in Brussels. The problem is that European solidarity sometimes works better – as with the joint procurement of corona vaccines – and sometimes worse, as it is now in view of the foreseeable gas shortage in winter. So now it’s being dealt again.
This is also how the suddenly possible concessions by the Greens in terms of stretch operation for nuclear power plants can be interpreted. Accordingly, German nuclear power plants could temporarily cover France’s electricity needs. In return, Paris could show its appreciation to Berlin in the struggle for Europe’s scarce gas.