The EU can cut most of its reliance on Russian gas by the end of this year if governments implement a raft of emergency measures to be proposed by the European Commission on Tuesday.
Russian imports accounted for 40 percent of EU gas consumption in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Reducing that rapidly means, “We are now protecting our vital interest,” said EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans.
He told the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Monday evening that the plan, which was heavily and rapidly revised in the days since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, could make the EU independent of Russian gas “within years.”
“It’s not easy but it’s feasible,” he added.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the launch, Timmermans confirmed POLITICO’s earlier reporting that the package would propose accelerating the rollout of renewable energy, biofuels and hydrogen.
“Given the fact that the energy markets will be tight for the foreseeable future, creating your own energy resources is strategically the smartest and the most urgent choice,” he said.
He also said savings could be made by cutting energy use, filling up gas storage over this year and finding new sources of gas, adding that the EU was in talks with Egypt, Qatar, “countries in the north rim of the Mediterranean,” Australia and the U.S. regarding boosting their supply in the short term.
Last week, the IEA outlined 10 measures the EU could take to cut its reliance on Russia by one-third — half of what the Commission’s plan aims for.
“We would need to import two-thirds less Russian gas already by the end of this year, if we take all these measures together,” said Timmermans.
For that to happen, member countries need to accelerate the flagship emissions-cutting Green Deal policy, aimed at making the bloc climate neutral by 2050 — a policy that’s already caused political tensions. Timmermans said the Commission would put forward the energy proposals at a meeting of EU leaders in France on Thursday and Friday.
Consumers are already swooning thanks to record energy prices, and Timmermans said the Commission would outline measures to cushion the blow, including “guidance on how to set regulated prices at retail level. We will open up new possibilities for state aid, we will also give guidance on temporary tax measures on electricity generators, and also indicate how you could make increased use of [Emission Trading System] revenues.”
He likened the moment to the response to the pandemic, when the recovery stimulus ended up strengthening the EU’s climate ambitions.
“Likewise, here, the Green Deal is also an answer to the security challenge in the energy field,” he said.
In a sign of the bloc’s determination to shift away from Russia, Timmermans said it might make sense for some countries to boost coal in the short term if combined with an accelerated rollout of clean energy. But if any countries took advantage of that to open new coal mines, it would be “an incredibly stupid choice,” he said.
Timmermans said there was “tension” between high energy costs for consumers and “hugely ballooning” revenues for energy companies, something that’s leading to pressure for a recommendation to hit utilities with windfall profit taxes. “I’m sure public authorities will want to do something about that,” he said.
Asked whether the EU should also consider a Russian oil embargo, a measure being discussed in Washington and London but which was rejected by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday, Timmermans said: “Nothing is off the table. The barbarism that Putin is now showing in Ukraine needs to be met with resolve, and also with measures that hurt him, even if they might hurt us as well.”