EU agrees rules to secure gas supply

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EU member state representatives approved on Friday (25 June) a compromise reached between the EU institutions on a new regulation to safeguard security of gas supplies.

The new regulation on gas supply security will oblige member states to follow supply and infrastructure standards to ensure that they can maintain normal supplies during the coldest of winters. Moreover, they will have to draw up preventive action and emergency plans in case of disruption.

The agreement will also introduce reverse flow technology in all interconnections between member states within three years.

The European Parliament, which hammered out the deal in trialogue negotiations with the European Commission and the Council, insisted on giving a stronger role to the EU executive in coordinating member states' responses to supply disruptions and declaring emergencies.

It will also have the final word on authorising reverse flows and interconnectors, as well as approving preventive action plans. 

Moreover, the text states that market-based measures should be the first reaction to any supply disruptions and non-market actions used only as a last resort.

"The Parliament has ensured that this regulation will not be used as a loophole for governments to distort the internal market using the excuse that there is a possible crisis," said Spanish MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras (European People's Party), who steered the legislation through Parliament.

Instead, it would ensure that companies can sell gas where it is needed by reducing member states' room to "adversely affect their neighbours by restricting the flow of gas within the EU," he added.

The trade-off was that the Council obtained flexibility to define "protected customers" who would be guaranteed access to gas. Member states will be able to add other energy users to the list as well as households, such as essential public services or SMEs. But the additional customers cannot represent more than 20% of final gas use.

MEPs argued that safeguarding too many customers would leave everyone unprotected as it would limit member states' capacity to channel gas to a neighbouring country in crisis. To address this, it was agreed that those member states who protect a large number of customers for a long time would have to outline in their preventive plans how they would relax such obligations in case of a supply crisis somewhere else.

The Parliament is expected to endorse the compromise at its July plenary.

In response to the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis in January 2009, which caused unprecedented disruption of gas supplies to the EU via Ukraine, the European Commission in July 2010 proposed to revise existing legislation on security of gas supply  (EURACTIV 17/07/09).

A proposed regulation provides for a more coordinated response to supply crises, and features preventive action and reactions to concrete disruptions of supply, including common standards and infrastructure interconnections.

It would require all member states to set up a competent authority responsible for monitoring gas supply developments, assessing risks, establishing preventive action plans and setting up emergency plans. Under the scheme, the European Commission would be obliged to coordinate the emergency response.

  • July: Parliament to vote on compromise in plenary.

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