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The EU agrees to plan that aims to cut gas consumption across Europe by 15%

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The European Union has agreed to a plan that aims to cut gas consumption across Europe by 15%.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

This move comes the same week that Russian energy company Gazprom abruptly cut gas deliveries to Europe through one of its most important pipelines.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Berlin to talk about all this. Rob, the EU came to this agreement quickly, but it did so after many of its members were able to get exemptions from having to make these cuts. So what did EU members agree to, exactly?

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Yeah. EU members agreed to cut their gas consumption by 15% in spirit. But it's important to note here that these cuts are voluntary. They stop being voluntary, though, should Russia create an energy emergency by making sudden cuts in gas supplies to Europe.

MARTINEZ: And Russia did that, right?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, that's right. Not only did they do it this week, but this goes back several weeks, when Russian energy company Gazprom abruptly cut the flow of gas on its Nord Stream 1 pipeline by half. And then earlier this month, the company simply cut off all the gas in the pipeline for a 10-day period. And it resumed last week. But then it cut gas again this week. So as it stands, the pipeline, which connects Germany to Russian gas, is now flowing at 20% capacity. So given this as a backdrop, member states will now need to start looking for energy savings so that they can meet this 15% gas savings benchmark because many see future cuts from Moscow as likely. And if the Kremlin should do that in the winter, when Europe needs more of its gas for heating, then we're looking at a more dire situation.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. We mentioned on the cuts that not all EU member states will need to make them. Tell us about the exemptions.

SCHMITZ: Right. Yeah. There are several EU countries that are not burning Russian gas for electricity or heat, so they've been granted exemptions, as have other countries that have already launched ambitious energy savings plans. I spoke to the German Marshall Fund's Jacob Kirkegaard about this. And here's what he said.

JACOB KIRKEGAARD: So you know, once you factor in all these exemptions, it's pretty clear that the number of countries that have a huge reliance on gas and none of these exemptions, well, they're going to be bearing most of the pain or most of the burden here. And that is Germany, Austria and others, precisely, frankly, the way it should be.

SCHMITZ: And, A, Kirkegaard is not alone in this opinion. Many in Europe believe Germany, which up to the war in Ukraine relied on Russia for half its natural gas, should shoulder most of the burden here due to its risky decision to rely so heavily on Moscow for its energy in the first place. In fact, the original proposal was for all EU states to cut 15% of their gas consumption. But the southern European states that long ago decided not to rely on Russia for energy were angry, saying they shouldn't have to pay for what they saw as Germany's energy mistakes.

MARTINEZ: So then what is Germany doing to reduce that Russian gas reliance?

SCHMITZ: Quite a bit. Germany's parliament has passed a law that will fast track construction of liquefied natural gas terminals, with the first one scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. That gas will be imported from the Middle East and the United States. The government is also conducting an energy survey right now to explore whether it should extend the life of three nuclear power plants that are scheduled to close by the end of the year. And we will know more on that option in a few weeks.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Berlin. Rob, thanks.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.