There is a suspicion that Brussels is misusing Article 122 and exploiting this crisis to take control of energy policy. It is going to be a fractious debate. Southern Europe has fresh and bitter memories of what happened in the eurozone banking crisis when Berlin promoted a morality tale of profligate Club Med states (it was true only for Greece), and invoked the doctrine of moral hazard to impose punitive austerity.
But the Commission is right about the urgency of cuts required to refill gas storage before winter. The menu is hard to fault: a one degree cut in home thermostats; and a 19 degree limit in commercial offices and public buildings (11 BCM saved); shorter showers; turning off appliances instead of leaving them on stand-by.
“Do we have to keep shop window lights on all night, and do we have to turn air conditioning down to 20 degrees?” asked Frans Timmermans, the EU’s net-zero plenipotentiary. One quibble: why is parasitical Bitcoin mining not included?
It wants a delay in the closure of nuclear plants (top offender: Germany); a temporary suspension of state aid rules; and a waiver of the Industrial Emissions Directive to enable more fuel switching, and so forth.
Thereafter comes industrial rationing, starting with the least essential gas-guzzlers. Glass output will be restricted, unless it is for vials, syringes, and the like. So will chemicals, unless for fertilisers. The aim is the maximum cut in gas for the minimum loss in GDP. Companies will resist furiously so this will be like pulling teeth.
There is little choice, other than capitulating to Putin. If these steps are not taken, the Covid-battered EU risks sliding into a crisis of existential implications. “We cannot let this situation spin out of control,” said Mr Timmermans.
Britain does not buy much gas from Russia and produces half its needs from home waters in the North Sea. But that alone will not shield this country from serious trouble if there is a full Russian cut-off.
The UK is fully integrated into the European energy nexus, and furthermore it subcontracted winter storage to the Netherlands and Germany after closing its main gas storage facility at Rough in a fit of globalist madness in 2018. The UK has just five days’ reserve.
The logic of renewable expansion is greater gas storage, not less, since dispatchable gas (peaker) plants are the complement to intermittent wind and solar. Centrica has secured a licence to reopen Rough – tripling the UK’s total storage – but there is no agreement yet with the Government over who pays the bill. Is the Treasury blocking it?