Lipavský says EU is united despite energy agreement criticism
EU energy ministers made an agreement last week to reduce gas consumption by 15 percent in preparation for a potentially tough winter. However, the agreement has been criticized by some as being too weak, unfair, or inconsistent. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský responded to some of the criticisms in an interview with Czech Radio.
The main outcome of last week’s meeting, presided over by Czech minister of industry and trade Jozef Síkela, was that EU member states managed to agree on a voluntary reduction of natural gas usage by 15 percent, in order to prepare for a possible disruption of Russian gas supplies this winter.
Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said in an interview with Czech Radio that the energy council meeting was a great success for the Czech government.
“What was agreed at the EU Council meeting, which I think was a big success for our government and for industry and trade minister Síkela, was that the EU member states would reduce gas consumption and would co-operate with each other in the event of shortages.”
However, the presentation of the deal as one of unity and solidarity has raised some eyebrows. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has criticized the EU, saying it has given member states contradictory instructions, on the one hand calling on them not to compete with each other for gas purchases and on the other telling them to fill their storage tanks. Mr. Lipavský told Czech Radio that Austria is simply looking out for its own interests.
“I think that every member state promotes its own interests within the EU and that Nehammer’s statements are simply a political tactic, as Austria would like to have heard something a little different from the Commission. Austria is very dependent on Russian gas and is in a similar situation to the Czech Republic, namely that its gas for a long time has been supplied by Russia and now it has to reorient itself, and that affects its storage facilities, which also serve the rest of Central Europe.”
Before the war in Ukraine, the EU imported about 40 percent of its gas from Russia, but some countries are far more dependent on Russian gas than others. For example, Estonia, Belgium, and France import only a relatively small share of their gas from Russia, at 15 percent or less according to statistics portal Statista, while others, such as Latvia and Austria, are heavily dependent, with over 80 percent of their gas coming from Russia. Czechia falls into this latter category, with 87 percent of its gas supplied by Russia in 2021, according to a report by Friends of the Earth.
A mechanism in the energy agreement making the reductions mandatory could be triggered if at least five member states experience a supply crisis, leading some countries which are not dependent on Russian gas or have large amounts of gas in storage to question why they should be subject to limitations on use when other member states have problems. But Mr. Lipavský insists that nevertheless, EU unity on this issue exists – for pragmatic reasons, if nothing else:
“The awareness that we are all in this together because our economies are intertwined will ensure EU solidarity. What good will gas be to Germany if Czech factories are at a standstill and cannot deliver supplies to German factories?”
Czech Presidency of the EU Council: July 1 – December 31, 2022
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