EU moves toward joint natural gas purchase to curb shortages
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is moving toward the joint purchase of natural gas and ensuring its storage facilities are nearly full to try to avoid another crisis tied to its dependency on Russian energy, officials said Tuesday.
The 27-nation bloc acknowledges it has been far too reliant on Russia for natural gas and oil and has been struggling to find the right mix of sanctions to punish the Kremlin for invading Ukraine while still requiring Russian fossil fuels.
Low levels of gas storage “brought us to big difficulties in January where we have been kind of scrambling for additional gas for European consumption,” EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said.
With energy prices high and supplies low, the EU is looking at its last crisis — the COVID-19 pandemic — as a blueprint. The member states joined up to buy vaccines in huge quantities for an equitable distribution.
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Sefcovic said there was a “need to take good lessons from how we tackled the procurement of vaccines. I think that there is also support for common purchase of gas among the member states.”
“I expect that this would be the approach which should be also endorsed by the heads of states and government,” during a two-day summit starting Thursday, Sefcovic said.
The draft conclusions of the summit obtained by The Associated Press include that “with a view to next winter, Member States and the Commission will urgently ... work together on the joint purchase of gas, LNG and hydrogen.” The details of such a deal would still need to be worked out.
And they will have enough clout to get a good deal, Sefcovic said.
“Europe should definitely use better its enormous weight, the scale of the European economy if it comes to the negotiating of energy prices,” he said.
EU leaders already agreed in principle at a March 11 summit to phase out dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal imports by 2027.
The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas and a quarter of its oil.
Although the latest European sanctions against Russia — including a ban on transactions with the Russian central bank — are unprecedented, the bloc has been careful to avoid disrupting the flow of energy.