EU ministers plan to cut gas use in response to Russia threat
Czech industry minister Jozef Sikela, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind state-run Gazprom's plan to cut gas deliveries to Europe.
"Putin will continue to play his dirty games in misusing and blackmailing gas supplies," Sikela said as he arrived to discuss the joint plan with the EU energy ministers in Brussels.
The Gazprom cut, he said, "is just an additional... proof that we have to take the game in our hands and we have to reduce the dependencies on Russian supplies as soon as possible".
In February, Russia invaded its neighbour Ukraine. In response, EU members have imposed an escalating series of economic sanctions packages on Moscow -- only to find their own energy supplies under threat.
Russia's Gazprom said it is cutting daily gas deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to 33 million cubic metres a day -- about 20 percent of the pipeline's capacity -- from Wednesday.
The company said Monday that it was halting the operation of one of the last two operating turbines due to the "technical condition of the engine".
But EU commissioner for energy, Kadri Simson, dismissed this claim.
"We know that there is no technical reason to do so," she said.
"This is a politically motivated step and we have to be ready for that and exactly for that reason the pre-emptive reduction of our gas demand is a wise strategy."
Last year, Russian accounted for some 40 percent of EU gas imports.
According to the latest proposed EU plan, seen by AFP, all member countries should cut gas use by 15 percent by the end of March in order to compensate for falling supplies from Russia.
But, according to the Czech residency and the EU Commission, exceptions are planned for island states such as Ireland, Cyprus or Malta and countries with no connection to the interconnected gas supply grid.
The ministers are meeting Tuesday in Brussels to agree the plan, with several countries having rejected an earlier European Commission proposal to give Brussels the power to impose gas use cuts in an emergency.
This compulsory measure was designed, in particular, to protect economic powerhouse Germany, which is dependent on Russian gas for much of its energy production and might need help from its neighbours.
But the Brussels plan says each country will "do everything possible" to reduce, between August 2022 and March 2023, gas use by 15 percent compared to the average of the last five years over the same months.
The idea that Brussels cold declare an emergency and impose cuts on national economies was opposed by several EU members including Poland, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal.
Diplomats from national capitals took last week's Commission proposal and substantially modified it in the hope of striking a deal on Tuesday, according to a version of the text consulted by AFP.
This proposal provides that it is the Council of the European Union, representing the 27 governments, and not the European Commission which decides on the possible implementation of binding objectives.
And the 15-percent target would also be adapted to the situation of each country thanks to a series of exemptions, taking into account their level of stocks and whether or not they have pipelines to share gas.
Some member states are concerned that the exceptions will dilute the effort but, arriving at the meeting, Simson said Brussels was now confident of at least a political agreement.