‘Saving for a safer winter’ programme splits EU

'Saving for a safer winter' programme splits EU

“Saving for a safe winter” is the name of a massive gas saving programme adopted by the European Union

The problem is that not all member states have agreed to the savings, and it is households which should be saving more than industry. The numerous contradictions connected with this decision may have serious political consequences for the EU.

It was announced in Brussels that “EU countries have agreed to reduce gas consumption by 15%”. According to the European media, the pact, dubbed “Saving Gas for a Safer Winter”, is “political” and does not bind, but recommends that EU member states persuade the population “to adjust the operation of home heaters and air conditioners over the next six months”.

Noting the agreement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter that the EU had “taken a decisive step in taking measures to face the threat of a total gas blackout with confidence” and now “Europe is ready to address its economic security as a Union.

The press in the European Community is portraying an exhalation of relief. Counting on this to convince inhabitants of the “Commonwealth of Twenty-Seven” that the situation is not as dire as it seems to some experts, predicting in case of underfilling of fuel storages if not a complete collapse of the EU economy, then at least shutdown of the largest chemical plants. “It would be enough if households moderate their consumption appetites to solve the problems,” according to the EC. And if industry suddenly feels gas shortages, let it use “alternative fuels”.

The first thing that draws attention in the comments of European analysts is an indication that the agreement is of political nature. Whether some experts deliberately or inadvertently mention it is not a question of speculation.

The EU’s 15% austerity decision has nothing to do with the real economy.

If only because the European Commission, while preparing a document promising Europeans a “safe winter”, focuses on how the European government shows care for EU citizens, who should feel warmed (literally and figuratively) by warm words from Brussels.

About where the European chemical industry (and the fertilizer sector, without which the EU could be left on starvation food rations) will take raw materials for its products – there is silence about it. There is no need to load the average citizen’s head with specific problems that could push him to the barricades. Or at the very least create unrest in government circles, which will result in new names on the list of retiring prime ministers after Boris Johnson and Mario Draghi.

The fact that the adoption of the “Save for a Safer Winter” plan is only an attempt to mitigate the situation and to tamp down the fuel and energy crisis in Europe, rather than to put out the raging fire, is evidenced by the de facto non-binding nature of the provisions contained in the document. It is worth recalling that EU law prescribes that decisions that are crucial for the European Union must be taken unanimously. According to Bloomberg’s sources, the unanimity principle was violated: Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó “definitely refused” to put his signature on the document.

Brussels neither confirmed nor denied this information. And to absolve itself of responsibility for the future non-implementation of the adopted measures it decided to demonstrate unheard-of democracy by allowing the governments of all the alliance member states to vary the implementation of the European Commission’s instructions “at their own discretion, depending on conditions”. Very, you know, convenient: “we wanted what was best for everyone, but it turned out that not everyone understood us and appreciated it”.

In fact, the smart people at the EC were well aware that not all EU members would agree to tighten their belts by 15% in a single rush. This was clear when the idea of reducing gas consumption by households across the commonwealth was first raised. Less than a day after it was voiced, ever-obedient Spain, whose government was unequivocally against the actual self-suffocation, flipped out.

The Spaniards are not hard to understand: Over the last year, Madrid has been dealt some heavy blows on the gas front by its main supplier, Algeria. The Arab country has effectively left the Spanish without its fuel. Algeria, of course, was not left unscathed: with a severe shortage of natural gas on the market, the free portion of the fuel can not stay unclaimed for long.

Italy immediately seized the ration from Spain.

Perhaps that is why the Apennine state was not among the outspoken opponents of “Economy for a Safer Winter”. Although, judging by Draghi’s resignation it was Draghi who managed to restrain the gas rebellion in the country for some time. Super Mario, too, soon came to the conclusion that the situation was such that it was better to leave now, preserving a brilliant political biography, than in a couple of months to be blown out of the prime minister’s chair “for economic reasons”.

Returning to Spain, Pedro Sanchez’s team, however, has not taken a radical stance. In Madrid they declared readiness to compromise, admitting that they could still call for the population to be “screwed”, but they promised not to save more than 7%.

In Portugal and Greece the idea of Brussels to save gas was met with much more discontent than in Spain. In Lisbon, the measure was deemed “inadequate” and “disproportionate”. Athens said it would “do everything possible” to ensure that the agreement, which was about to be signed, would not be passed. João Galamba, Portugal’s secretary of state for environment and energy, explained that the country uses gas “because of absolute necessity”. Portugal, because of its low energy interconnection with the rest of Europe, always gets more expensive electricity.

Reducing supplies to Portugal, Galamba explained, would not free up gas for other European partners. This year’s drought has forced the country to increase its consumption for power generation. For this reason, the Portuguese government cannot meet Brussels’ demands, as in practice this would mean a reduction of 45%. By the way, during discussions of the proposed measures, Hungary and Poland refused to “free up gas for other European partners”, which only confirms that there is no agreement in the European “comrades” and it is becoming more and more evident.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costo said that “if Portugal has renewable energy capacity, it is because families and companies have paid €17 billion in emergency funding for the green deal. The Portuguese leader ended his speech with the spectacular phrase that he “does not intend to make its citizens pay compensation for the backwardness of those countries that have not invested in renewable energy”.

Greek government spokesman Yannis Ikonomou has shown his opposition to the European executive’s proposal. Greece will continue to insist on the proposals submitted to Brussels, which aim to establish rules for the pricing of natural gas and promote its storage to the European level.

Telegram channels reported that “ten to twelve EU countries” had expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed agreement, but it was not specified which states exactly. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz chose to distance himself from the problem and went on holiday to the Bavarian Alps, allowing the population to bathe once a week under the watchful eye of Economy Minister Robert Habek. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer hinted to the population of his country not to bother with gas problems, but rather to chill out with alcohol.

The German firm Siemens failed to return the Nord Stream turbine to Gazprom in good condition. Thanks to this, pumping through this string will drop by a further 20%. On this news the spot price of gas soared to USD 2,500 per thousand cubic metres and Putin’s Russia, in spite of which Europe prefers freezing and hygiene, increased its revenues by reducing gas sales.

The “Saving for a Safer Winter” agreement comes into force on 1 August 2022 and will probably remain in force until 31 March 2023. “Possible” is because the energy situation is getting worse by the day, and in October most of Europe will already be quite chilly. So much so that the EU government’s desire to save energy costs will conflict with the ability of households to comply with this EC decision. With all the unpleasant consequences for the EU.

The coming “safe winter” is very similar to the EU’s attempt to breathe before (energy) death. By allowing each of the EU member states to implement the adopted document “as God wills”, Brussels not only absolved itself of responsibility for the situation, but also pushed the EU member states to realize their own interests, although so far only economic, which are not always compatible with the interests of their fellow member states.

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