The Green Brief: One step closer to Russian fossil fuel ban

Subscribe to EURACTIV's Green Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering energy & environment from across Europe.

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Green Brief. Below you’ll find the latest roundup of news on energy and environment from across Europe. You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter here.

Pictures of dead bodies lying in the streets of Bucha have rightly sparked collective outrage across Europe, suggesting wanton slaughter of the Ukrainian people by the Russian army.

The horrific scenes gave further momentum to calls for halting all imports of Russian energy, starting with coal and oil.

EU sanctions targeted at Russian fossil fuel imports “are a possibility” said French finance minister Bruno Le Maire as he entered a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday (5 April). “President Macron made it clear yesterday that he was open to extend sanctions to coal and oil,” he said.

But don’t hold your breath just yet – the issue is far from being decided. Due to persistent blockage from Austria, Germany, Italy, Slovakia and other EU countries that are dependent on Russian energy, passing EU sanctions on oil and coal imports soon became out of reach.

And gas imports, the most sensitive of all, will be dealt with only as a last resort due to strong resistance from Germany, the EU juggernaut.

Yet, even positions in Germany appear to be shifting. When pictures of the Bucha massacre started circulating widely on Sunday (3 April), it prompted a rapid sequence of consultations and public statements from the German government.

At 1:00 pm on Sunday, Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock announced that sanctions against Russia would be tightened. This was followed less than an hour later by Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck saying he “considered a tightening of sanctions to be appropriate”.

At 3:00 pm, Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned the Bucha massacre, but failed to mention sanctions, something he corrected three hours later. 

“We will decide on further measures in the circle of allies in the coming days,” he said at the end of a video statement condemning the Bucha atrocities. 

Then, the B-word finally dropped. Later that day, his party colleague and defence minister Christine Lambrecht conceded on TV that an energy import ban would have to be discussed at EU level.

For other EU nations, that was a big deal. Had the German government finally dropped its opposition to a Russian energy embargo? Would the EU finally stop financing Russia’s war in Ukraine after the Bucha atrocities?

Later that day, Habeck poured cold water on these hopes, saying Germany’s efforts to end its dependence on Russian energy was expected to conclude by mid 2024.

But the genie was out of the bottle. By Monday, the debate on whether to ban Russian energy imports was raging in the public sphere, also dividing newsrooms across the country. Illustrating the split, the respected daily Frankfurter Allgemeine published two editorials on the same day by some of their most senior journalists – one arguing in favour of an embargo, the other against.

On Monday, finance minister Christian Lindner alluded that a compromise on coal and oil would be possible. “Germany does not oppose an embargo,” Baerbock once again said on Monday night. 

“If an embargo could stop this war, we would do it immediately,” she added, citing the ongoing efforts to transform the German economy. 

We will never know whether Baerbock is right or not – at least not any time soon. Monday’s finance minister meeting did not conclude on the matter. The only move came from the European Commission, which proposed banning imports of coal from Russia, a proposal that will be discussed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday. 

Further moves – including a ban on Russian oil and, eventually, gas – cannot be excluded. But it will probably take more atrocities for Germany, Austria and others to speed up the journey toward a full embargo.

– Nikolaus J. Kurmayer


Today’s edition is powered by GSMA Europe.

New from the GSMA: Strategy Paper for Circular Economy

Learn the nine key recommendations to move the mobile industry towards a more circular economy for network equipment.

Continue Reading >>


This week’s top stories

More stories:


News from the capitals

BERLIN. Putin threatens retaliation after Germany nationalises Gazprom subsidiary. Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to hold back food exports and take retaliatory measures against Western companies after Germany nationalised the German Gazprom subsidiary on Monday. Read more.

BRUSSELS. An increasing number of EU leaders have asked Brussels to push forward a fifth package of sanctions against Moscow following the atrocities and what French President Emmanuel Macron described as “unbearable scenes” of the destroyed Ukrainian town of Bucha.

Several sources from the capitals confirmed to EURACTIV that a trade ban – as Warsaw recently requested – is now on the radar while EU leaders are still divided over gas imports. Read more.

BERLIN. Gazprom Germania nationalised to block liquidation. The German government has, effective immediately, transferred the ownership of the German Gazprom subsidiary to the federal network agency as a trustee in a bid to save the country’s gas market. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovak nuclear plants serviced by Gazprom-linked company. Slovak nuclear power plant operator Slovenské elektrárne a.s. has service contracts with Škoda JS, owned by Russian Gazprombank, leading to a fear of security breaches and the risk of future sanctions. EURACTIV Slovakia reports. Read more.

LJUBLJANA. Slovenia ‘very interested’ in Croatian LNG terminal. Slovenia is very interested in gas from Croatia’s LNG terminal, which has ensured 300 million cubic metres in additional capacity, for which a tender will be advertised, Slovenian Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec said on Monday at a meeting with Croatian Economy Minister Tomislav Ćorić.

Vrtovec said Slovenia was considering diversifying gas supply so as not to be dependent on supply from Russia. The infrastructure for the additional 300 million cubic metres of natural gas already exists, he said, adding that Slovenia would be able to procure nearly one-third of its gas needs via the LNG terminal off Krk island in the northern Adriatic. Asked if Slovenia was interested in building another reactor at the Krško nuclear power plant and if Croatia would be included, Vrtovec said Slovenia was very interested and that this would be discussed. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

BERLIN. Energy sanctions now on table for Germany. Oil and gas sanctions are one of the options Germany will consider following the atrocities Russian troops committed on the outskirts of Kyiv, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said. Read more.

LONDON. Wind and nuclear to lead government energy strategy. The government is set to unveil a new energy strategy this week that will shift the UK away from oil and gas imports as it faces hefty price increases and supply disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Read more.

VILNIUS. Lithuania becomes first EU country to stop Russian gas imports. Lithuania is the first EU country to have completely stopped importing Russian gas, the energy ministry announced on Saturday. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovakia to pay for Russian gas in roubles if necessary. Slovakia cannot afford to stop importing Russian natural gas and will pay for it in roubles if necessary, Slovak Economy Minister Richard Sulík said on Sunday. Read more.

SARAJEVO | ZAGREB. Dubrovnik, BiH row over airport construction. Dubrovnik Mayor Mato Franković has sent a request to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers to halt the construction of an airport in Trebinje until the project’s impact on the source of the River Ombla is assessed. Read more.

WARSAW. Poland’s recovery plan will not get EU approval anytime soon, experts believe, despite media reports that the European Commission may give a green light next week for payments from the fund allocated to Poland. Read more.

THE HAGUE. Zelenskyy urges Dutch lawmakers to drop Russian gas, mentions MH17 flight. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to MPs in Dutch parliament on Thursday, calling on the Netherlands to immediately stop buying Russian gas and referring to the shooting down of the MH17 plane in 2014 that killed many Dutch people. Read more.

VILNIUS | COPENHAGEN. Lithuanian, Danish PMs unified on tightening Russia sanctions. Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė and her Danish counterpart, Mette Frederiksen, agreed that more sanctions are needed against Russia and Belarus during a meeting in Vilnius. Read more.

MADRID | LISBON. Spain, Portugal propose to cap gas prices for thermal power plants. The governments of Spain and Portugal have submitted a joint proposal to the European Commission setting a reference price for gas of €30 per megawatt (MWh) for thermal power plants to lower the cost of electricity, EURACTIV’s partners EFE and El País reported. Read more.

LISBON. EDP buys Polish solar energy company Soon Energy. Portuguese company EDP has announced on Thursday that it will acquire Polish solar energy company Soon Energy, which has more than 25 megawatt-peak (MWp) installed in projects across Poland, without disclosing the value of the deal. Read more.

LJUBLJANA. Fuel price regulation in Slovenia extends to wholesale prices. The Slovenian government has capped the wholesale price of regular petrol and diesel in a move that came just weeks after retail prices were brought back under government control. Read more.

SARAJEVO. Serb ministers in BiH block sanctions against Russia. Serb ministers in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers blocked a decision to deny access for Russia and Belarus to funds from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and Presidency member Milorad Dodik announced strengthening energy cooperation with Russia. Read more.

BERLIN. German Nord Stream 2 region leader admits pipeline was ‘mistake’. Manuela Schwesig, the prime minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (where Nord Stream 2 was being built) has dropped her support for the pipeline, admitting for the first time that her long-standing advocacy for the contentious project was a mistake. Read more.

VIENNA. Austria declares ‘early emergency’ plan to secure gas supply. The government has followed Germany and triggered “an early emergency” mechanism to manage gas supplies in response to Russia saying it will only accept roubles for gas deliveries going forward. Read more.

THE HAGUE. Ruling party lawmakers demands speeding up North Sea gas drilling. Jereon van Wijngaarden, an MP in Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD wants to speed up the process of getting a permit to drill gas in the North Sea. Read more.

BUCHAREST. Romania launches call for green energy projects. A call for renewable energy projects with a total budget of €457.7 million has been launched by Romanian Energy Minister Virgil Popescu.

The financing comes from Romania’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Popescu said the support scheme aims to finance projects with a total installed power of 950 MW. The scheme will only finance wind and solar power projects, with a minimum installed power of 0.2 MW. The energy chapter in Romania’s NRRP has an allocation of €1.62 billion. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

BELGRADE. Adriatic oil pipeline JANAF to suspend oil supplies to Serbia. The Adriatic oil pipeline JANAF has announced that it will suspend oil deliveries to Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS) oil corporation, which would block Serbia’s oil refinery and a petrochemical complex, Petrohemija, near Belgrade. Read more.


News in brief

We can do more on renewables, Commission says. While Europe’s wind energy sector is one of the global front runners in the industry, the bloc “can do more on renewables”, said Ditte Juul Jørgensen, the Director General for Energy at the European Commission.

Speaking at the WindEurope conference in Spain, she highlighted the importance of renewables in the context of the war in Ukraine.

“For a more resilient and more sustainable and a more affordable energy sector in Europe, the deployment of renewable energy in Europe is absolutely key,” she said.

“We in the European Union cannot and will not continue to be dependent on Russian fossil fuels. We must take charge of our energy future and not ever again allow a third country to destabilise our energy markets or influence our energy choices,” she added.

Speaking to representatives of the wind industry, she said that the Commission is “conscious that permitting…is a particular stumbling block” to new wind energy projects and added that a recommendation due to be published in May will help tackle this. It will include guidance on the length and complexity of permitting, good practices and power purchase agreements, she explained. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

////

Portugal turbo charges solar power expansion. Solar plants with a capacity of less than 50 MW will no longer have to pass an environmental assessment in Portugal. In “sensitive” areas such as nature reserves, everything under 20 MW will pass, according to Portuguese Minister Joao Galamba. Furthermore, the government wants to have 80% renewable electricity as early as 2026, instead of 2030 as initially planned. (Nikolaus J. Kurmayer | EURACTIV.de)

////

Lawmakers to vote on energy performance of buildings law by end of the year. Lawmakers in the European Parliament are due to finalise their position on the revision of the energy performance of buildings directive with a vote in December 2022. Dates for your diary:

  • JUNE 27. Consideration of draft report.
  • JULY 5. Deadline for tabling amendments.
  • OCTOBER 26-27. Vote in ITRE.
  • DECEMBER 2022. Vote in plenary.

(Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)


Opinions


Upcoming events

28 APRIL. Carbon removals – how best to implement and validate? Join this EURACTIV virtual event to debate the regulatory framework that would foster trust in carbon removals. Independent measurement and verification are essential to ensure that carbon removals have been properly conducted and that the carbon is effectively and permanently removed from the atmosphere. Speakers to be announced soon. Programme and registration here. (Supported by TIC Council)

29 APRIL. Circularity of bottles: contributing to the Green Deal. Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss what’s the best recipe for meeting circular economy and climate objectives and whether deposit return schemes are an efficient way to meet collection and recycling targets for EU natural mineral and spring water producers. Speakers include Martin Hojsík from the European Parliament’s environment committee and more. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Natural Mineral Waters Europe)

10 MAY. Due diligence and sustainable sourcing: can a common approach for all sectors work? Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss responsible sourcing and due diligence. How can companies best develop tools and standards that fit the upcoming European legislation? And how can the European Commission ensure there is a coherent approach for all actors involved? Speakers to be announced soon. (Supported by the Nickel Institute).

17 MAY. Sustainable and healthy buildings – reaching the goals of the EU Green Deal. Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss how the revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) can support a healthy indoor climate while accelerating a decrease of energy costs and decarbonising our buildings. Speakers to be announced soon. Programme and registration here. (Supported by Velux).

17 MAY. A revised EPBD – faster decarbonisation of the EU’s building stock? Join this EURACTIV Hybrid Conference to discuss what can be done to improve the existing regulatory framework to support an effective decarbonisation process in the building sector. Speakers to be announced soon. Programme and registration here. (Supported by EdEn – Equilibre des Energies).


On our radar

3 MAY. International partnerships and energy package:

  • New strategy on international energy engagement
  • Joint Communication on a partnership with the Gulf

18 MAY. RePowerEU plan to break away from Russian fossil fuels.

25-27 MAY. G7 meeting of climate and energy ministers.

7 JUNE. Joint Communication on international ocean governance

27 JUNE. Energy Council.

28 JUNE. Environment Council.

5 JULY. New design requirements and consumer rights for electronics tbc

20 JULY. Circular Economy Package 2:

  • Policy framework for bio-based, biodegradable and compostable plastics
  • Review of the Packaging and packaging waste directive to reinforce the essential requirements for packaging and establish EU level packaging waste prevention measures and targets
  • Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment directive 

(Date tbc). Nature protection package: Revision of rules around sustainable use of pesticides and nature restoration targets.


* Editor’s note: We’re taking time off during the Easter break and will be back on Wednesday 20 April. In the meantime, news coverage will continue on EURACTIV’s Energy & Environment section. Until then, this is Fred, Kira, Niko and Nelly signing off.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe