President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen gives a press conference at The European Council Building in Brussels on June 24, 2022. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

The EU is preparing for the worst when it comes to gas supplies. “We hope for the best, but expect the worst,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels after the EU summit on Friday. In plain language, this means that Europe is preparing as quickly as possible for Russia to completely stop deliveries.

To this end, the Union has examined all national emergency programs and drawn up a joint plan to reduce consumption, explained von der Leyen. She referred to the lessons of the Corona crisis that Europe “is only strong if it sticks together”.

Ursula von der Leyen emphasized that the primary goal must be to end dependence on Russian gas supplies. That is why we are working flat out to find new sources. This included liquid gas from the USA or higher delivery quotas from Norway. In the medium term, however, it is crucial to get away from fossil fuels entirely by expanding renewable energies.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz also announced in Brussels that the search for alternative import options would be accelerated in view of falling Russian gas supplies. “All of us together are very, very carefully prepared for the difficult challenge of importing fossil resources from Russia,” he said on Friday.

Therefore, infrastructure was taken care of early on with which gas could be imported from other countries, he said, referring to planned LNG terminals. “This is an effort that needs to be accelerated again. We’ll hook up there.”

After the summit, Scholz reinforced the doubts about Russian statements that the throttling of gas deliveries was due to technical reasons. “No one in the EU believes in it,” said the Chancellor.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander de Croo warned on the sidelines of the summit that it would have a major impact on other countries in the EU should Germany experience difficulties with gas supplies. “If Germany gets into trouble, it also has an enormous impact on all other European countries, including our country,” he said.

Like his colleagues, he also demanded that the Europeans now have to stand together, after all there is an economic war with Russia. “There is no better argument for the fact that we have to do this together than to look at the consequences that Germany is potentially suffering,” said the head of government. You might experience a difficult winter. With a view to possible difficulties with the gas supply, he spoke out in favor of price caps and joint purchases of the raw material.

While the EU states had already agreed at a summit in March that they wanted to buy gas together, the picture is different when it comes to price caps. So far, there are only exceptions for Spain and Portugal. Countries like Germany and the Netherlands in particular see price caps critically.

At the end of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to erase another flaw that lies at the meeting of heads of state and government. Macron said he welcomed the vote of the Bulgarian parliament. On Friday, the Bulgarian parliament gave the government in Sofia the green light to start EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia.

This will end the Bulgarian blockade in the EU, which caused trouble on the first day of the EU summit in Brussels. In 2020, Bulgaria vetoed the opening of negotiations with the Western Balkan state of North Macedonia, which also blocked negotiations with Albania. However, it must now be clarified whether North Macedonia will also accept the compromise. North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacewski described the French proposals as “unacceptable” in a Facebook post on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Macron clarified his proposal for a “European political community” in which states such as Ukraine and North Macedonia could initially be admitted before possible full membership. The French head of state initially presented a corresponding plan to the European Parliament at the beginning of May.

On Friday he explained in Brussels that it was about a joint forum for European states that shared the same values. Macron explained that fixed structures for the planned “European political community” would only emerge later. According to EU Council President Charles Michel, after the summer break, the first meeting of the new forum is planned in Prague during the upcoming Czech EU Presidency.

The summit also dealt with the tense economic situation in the EU states as a result of the Ukraine war. As Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi explained after the EU meeting, the forecasts pointed to an economic downturn in the entire euro zone due to inflation and high energy prices.

Green MEP Rasmus Andresen said that “everything must be done urgently now to avert a euro crisis 2.0”. Andresen warned that the tense situation and the turnaround in interest rates by the European Central Bank (ECB) would put Southern European countries in particular under pressure. “Another split in the eurozone is to be feared,” said Andresen. He urged the ECB to quickly finalize its announced program to avoid excessive interest rate differentials between euro-zone countries such as Germany and Italy when issuing government bonds.

The risk of the euro zone drifting apart is also referred to as “fragmentation” in specialist circles. EU diplomatic circles have said that not all Community leaders agree that such a threat currently exists. Rather, the different interest rates reflect the differences in the real economy of the individual member states.