BRUSSELS. European leaders meeting in Brussels this week were eager to focus on granting Ukraine candidate EU membership status, but they also had to deal with a pressing war-related problem: Russia is slowly turning off the gas tap.
Cuts in gas supplies to Germany in recent days have forced the country, Europe’s economic engine, to strengthen its energy emergency protocol and urge Germans to conserve electricity. The next step is normalization.
EU leaders on Friday asked the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, to come up with policy proposals to collectively deal with the possibility that Russia, using Europe’s continued reliance on its gas supplies to hurt Ukraine’s supporters, could further curb the flow of gas or even completely cut off countries.
“We saw the picture not only of the last weeks and months, but also in retrospect, as well as the picture of last year, when you look at how Gazprom fills the storage — or, I should say, does not fill the storage, because last year they were at a 10-year low,” commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.
“Now it’s 12 member states that are either completely or partially cut off,” she added.
RS. Von der Leyen said she would ask her experts to come up with a contingency plan to deal with possible winter shortages. The Commission has already advocated the joint purchase and storage of gas by EU members as a safety measure in case one country goes offline. For example, after cutting off gas supplies to Bulgaria, Greece stepped up to help supply gas to its neighbor and EU member.
But if Russia decides to hurt Europe for its support of Ukraine by further cutting supplies from its energy giant Gazprom, it is far from clear that such temporary solidarity will work in winter, when the bloc’s energy needs are much higher.
The EU has imposed sanctions on Russian fossil fuels, including a broad ban on Russian oil imports that will take effect at the end of the year. But he has not been able to do the same with Russian gas, on which he is heavily dependent, because he has not yet found enough alternatives. Meanwhile, gas prices have risen, costing European buyers dearly and softening the impact of sanctions on Russia.
And whatever solutions European leaders come up with for the growing problem will take effect in a few months. For now, Member States must deal with possible shortages largely on their own.
RS. Von der Leyen said she has been asked to present her proposals at the next EU leaders’ summit in October and expects her staff to complete their training in September.
At the same time, she urged people to use less energy.
“We must not only replace gas, but always use the opportunity to save energy. I can’t stress this enough,” she said, adding that Europeans could save a lot by turning off their air conditioners in the summer and turning off their heaters when temperatures drop.
Gas is not the only pressing issue facing world leaders. Diplomats also gathered in Berlin on Friday ahead of the G-7 summit in Germany on Sunday to discuss the growing global food crisis caused by Ukraine’s inability to export its grain. Earlier this week, the United Nations said the war had left tens of millions of people food insecure.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Burbock welcomed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken; Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio; and other officials to discuss possible solutions.
Before the war, Ukraine exported millions of metric tons of grain monthly, mostly through seaports that are now blocked. Officials weighed in on the possibility of transporting grain overland, which was a much slower and more difficult undertaking.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, M. Blinken said that although the food crisis will continue for some time, it is important not to allow Russia to violate the basic human rights of the Ukrainian people.