EU closer to ‘genuine Energy Union’ as MEPs support gas supply solidarity

New EU measures are meant to make it more difficult for third party countries to 'blackmail' the bloc by disrupting energy supply. [Shutterstock]

European lawmakers approved on Tuesday (12 September) a new security of gas regulation, which includes a solidarity principle in case of supply disruptions and will make it more difficult for other countries to “blackmail” the EU’s members.

Member states that are hit by gas supply crises will now be able to count on the aid of neighbouring countries, after MEPs adopted a report on the issue during Tuesday’s plenary session in Strasbourg.

Aimed at preventing “blackmail” of EU countries by external gas suppliers, the new rules mean member states will be obliged to step in and help their afflicted neighbours provide gas to the most vulnerable parts of society, the so-called “protected consumers”.

Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, who was a guest at the early morning debate, welcomed the “ambitious but balanced agreement, reached after 14 months: a real record”.

The report’s author, Polish MEP and chair of the energy committee (ITRE) Jerzy Buzek (EPP), thanked Cañete for involving the Maltese Presidency of the Council during the negotiation period, as it “managed to convince a number of member states”.

It builds on common rules on energy deals with third countries, which the Parliament also supported back in March and which was the first piece of Energy Union legislation to be adopted by the Parliament.

Energy Union chief Maroš Šefčovič, reacting to the plenary’s approval, said: “We have delivered on the promise to our citizens that they do not need to fear to be left in the cold in the future, while the industry is kept on hold.”

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Regional matters

As well as introducing a new spirit of solidarity, the legislation will also enhance the regional aspect of the Energy Union, as member states will now be banded into seven new regional blocs, specially created for the purposes of energy security, in order to better respond to crises.

Croatian MEP Davor Škrlec (Greens/ EFA) welcomed this focus on regional cooperation and insisted that “Cañete has been given a very powerful tool to use”.

Buzek pointed out that it is an essential part of the new regulation because “90% of European gas crosses at least one border”. He added that “a single country can disrupt supplies but a single country certainly cannot overcome or prevent such disruptions alone”.

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However, not all MEPs were as enthusiastic about the new measures. Polish lawmaker Krzysztof Hetman (EPP) raised the issue of Nord Stream 2, a controversial gas pipeline project that would link Russia to Germany, branding it a “threat to energy security”.

Nicola Caputo (S&D group) also insisted that EU policy should promote renewable energies, not fossil fuels, while UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge (EFDD) said there should be more research done into nuclear and fracking technologies, which he called “the fuels of the future”.

Internal affairs

Even though the legislation is primarily aimed at limiting the power third countries, particularly Russia, can exert over the EU, a number of MEPs raised issues that are almost entirely of the bloc’s own making.

Irish lawmaker and ITRE member Seán Kelly highlighted how Ireland is currently dependent on the United Kingdom for 90% of its gas and how the island’s only energy link to the EU will disappear in March 2019.

To counter this situation, he urged the EU to continue and increase funding to Projects of Common Interest such as the Shannon LNG facility and the Celtic Interconnector, an undersea cable that will link Ireland to northwest France.

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This is not the first time the Union has tried to shield itself from energy crises. After spats between Russia and Ukraine in 2006 and 2009 saw gas supplies cut off to many parts of Europe, the EU adopted the first security of gas regulation in 2010.

That piece of legislation obliged member states to work closely together in order to best prepare for supply disruptions, as well as having in place infrastructure capable of providing reverse flows of gas.

Various Commission stress tests and checks have shown that parts of the bloc still remain vulnerable and the agreement reached today was a direct response to that threat. The adopted text will now be published in the Official Journal of the EU and will enter into force 20 days after publication.