The European Union is in the grip of a “growing gas crisis” made worse by its reliance on Russia, Brussels will warn, as it pushes even harder for energy savings and a switch to renewables.
According to a draft paper on EU energy prices, due out on Tuesday and seen by the Guardian:
Gas and electricity prices will remain high and volatile until at least 2023. Compared to last autumn’s outlook, the situation has deteriorated.
Like the rest of the world, the EU has been grappling with soaring energy prices for months, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked soul-searching about Europe’s gas dependence.
The Union imports 40% of its gas from Russia, a figure that has not changed for more than 15 years despite the repeated gas crises triggered by supply cuts from Moscow.
The guidance document also confirms that EU competition authorities are investigating Russian state energy company Gazprom for “unusual business behavior”. The Russian company’s European storage facilities are only 16% full, compared to 44% for non-Gazprom storage, raising suspicions that the Kremlin is using gas as a geopolitical tool.
The paper states:
The commission is currently investigating all allegations of possible anti-competitive business behavior on the part of Gazprom as a matter of priority and is gathering additional information from relevant market participants.
The draft, from last week, does not comment on the extension of EU sanctions to Russian oil. On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “in very active discussions” with European allies over a ban on Russian oil.
The committee makes a series of recommendations, including calling for a swift agreement on EU energy efficiency legislation, which is expected to result in 17 billion cubic meters (bcm) of energy savings by 2025, under the EU Green Deal Plan.
The European Commission also wants more EU funds for new solar technologies, while member states are urged to use revenues from the EU’s carbon trading system to fund the switch to renewables.
European imports of liquefied natural gas reached almost 10 billion cubic meters in January, the highest monthly level on record, as the Union sought alternatives to Russian gas in preparation for Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine.
The commission says it plans to engage in discussions with other major LNG buyers, namely China, Japan, South Korea and India, “with a view to avoiding in the future conflicting market conditions, which increase the price of energy supply for all”.
Separately, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was working on a package of new sanctions against Russia in response to “the Kremlin’s disregard for citizens”.
Speaking alongside Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, she said:
We will discuss the new enforcement package we are working on right now… We need to make sure there are no loopholes and the effect of sanctions is really maximized.
In view of the evolution of the situation in Ukraine, of the Kremlin’s carelessness with regard to the citizens: women, children, men, we are of course also working on other sanctions which could be justified.
She did not elaborate on those details, but went on to say that the EU must “get rid of dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal”.