Five Western EU Countries Seek to Soften Gas Security Proposal

  • Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy seek changes to draft
  • The 5 nations favor limited solidarity provisions in crisis

Five western member states of the European Union are seeking to modify a draft law on security of natural-gas supply by limiting proposed new rules on regional cooperation and solidarity among nations in a crisis situation.

Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy shared their vision last month with other EU countries in a document obtained by Bloomberg News. The bloc’s 28 governments and the European Parliament started earlier this year legal work on a proposal by the European Commission to improve protection against gas supply disruptions. The bloc, which imports 53 percent of the energy it consumes, wants to cut dependence on Russia and reduce greenhouse gases that result from the most polluting fossil fuels such as coal.

At stake is a campaign by the EU to win energy-policy authority from national governments that compare with existing European powers over monetary, antitrust and agriculture matters. The commission proposed closer regional cooperation among member states, additional information from gas companies and more oversight of contracts with Russia and other external suppliers.

“In further developing the policies towards better security of gas supply, we should take note of existing forms of cooperation in the energy sector and take into account best practices,” the five countries said. “This approach should also keep in line with the established roles of EU institutions.”

Energy Links

Europe moved to tighten energy links among member states and to improve its security of supplies after the crisis in Ukraine highlighted the bloc’s degree of exposure to a possible disruption of flows from Russia. Moscow-based OAO Gazprom, the supplier of 27 percent of gas consumed in the EU, currently ships about a third of the fuel via Ukraine.

To increase the EU’s resilience, the commission proposed in February a shift from national approach to a regional approach in designing crisis-response plans. The EU would be divided into nine zones, where countries would have to cooperate to draw up emergency measures.

While security of supply would benefit from increased regional cooperation, in order to be efficient it must be based on operational national measures, the five countries said. It should be consistent with existing infrastructure projects, according to the document.

“Each risk on gas supply implies a different geographical area and a different kind of cooperation,” Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy said. “Security of supply risks cannot be efficiently dealt with by confining each member state within a predefined regional cooperation format. Such a rigid approach would not reflect market realities and unduly restrict the flexibility required for efficient cooperation and solidarity in a crisis.”

Supply Disruptions

The commission’s proposal also includes provisions that oblige EU countries to help out a neighboring member state experiencing gas supply disruptions. Under the rule, known as the solidarity principle, in the situation of a crisis in an EU nation gas supply to households and essential services, including healthcare and district heating, will be ensured by its neighbors.

It is technically impossible to monitor thousands of small and medium-sized companies connected to the public distribution network to ensure they comply with an order to reduce their power use in a crisis situation, the five countries said.

“Each member state is responsible for its security of supply, thus solidarity must remain a last resort measure,” they wrote in the document. “Countries should only be allowed to request solidarity measures if they have effectively exhausted all measures foreseen in their national emergency plan, and if market and price mechanisms have not been artificially suspended.”

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