Ireland is expected to receive an exemption from European Commission proposals to slash gas use, designed as a way to remove Russia’s ability to use supply for political leverage, The Irish Times understands.
Intense negotiations are taking place between European Union member states and the commission to finalise a draft hours before Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan is set to join his 26 counterparts in Brussels for an extraordinary meeting in the hopes of reaching a deal on Tuesday.
Fears of gas shortages in the EU this winter were heightened as Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom said it would cut the flow of gas through the crucial Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20 per cent, seen by EU capitals as the latest attempt to push them to drop their support for Ukraine.
Although the agreement was not yet finalised, EU and Irish sources suggested a carve-out for Ireland was expected, among a range of derogations and allowances for various member states to soften the proposal.
The latest circulated drafts contain a derogation for countries that are isolated from the EU energy network, something that covers island member states including Ireland, the sources said.
Irish officials had pushed for flexibility on the proposals, while fellow island nation Cyprus had said the plans should not apply until it was directly connected to the EU gas network.
The proposals laid out by the administration of commission president Ursula von der Leyen to reduce natural gas consumption by 15 per cent over the next eight months received strong pushback from member states in recent days, with a group of mostly southern EU countries rubbishing the plan as German-centric.
Germany’s industrial heartlands are deeply vulnerable to a gas supply crunch as Russia tightens supply, with the risk of a recession and further painful price rises for consumers if the flow is cut, while other member states are much less vulnerable.
A bank of central and eastern EU countries share common gas pipelines and will have to co-ordinate to share supplies in the event of shortages, but Ireland has no gas connection with an EU country, receiving almost all of its supplies from the Corrib field or via Britain.
The Government believes that due to Ireland’s remoteness from EU gas markets, it would be technically near impossible to make a meaningful contribution to replenishing gas reserves by cutting consumption.
The Coalition is likely to point to wider, already agreed environmental and emissions policies — such as retrofitting homes and public buildings, and public awareness campaigns to cut consumption — in order to join efforts to bring down consumption due to geopolitical concerns.
In the latest draft, the commission’s proposals have been softened to include various derogations catering to national circumstances.
The plan would now apply for one year rather than two, according to an EU official, while the number of countries needed to trigger a mandatory obligation to cut gas has been increased from three to five.
An EU official said “everybody has to contribute to the extent possible” but that national circumstances would be taken into account.
“The situation is different for islands, different for countries that do have LNG terminals, different for landlocked countries,” the official said. “Geographical limitations and interconnection limitations are at the core of debate, and what we are discussing right now.”
The official said it was “difficult to say” whether with all the derogations the proposals would still amount to cutting the EU’s gas use by 45 billion cubic metres of gas — the amount identified by the commission as sufficient for the EU to make it safely through the winter in case of a total cut of gas by Russia.
A Government source said on Monday that an approach proposed by the Czech presidency of the EU, which is brokering negotiations, “appears to provide the flexibility Ireland requires”.
Nevertheless, a European Commission spokesman said Gazprom’s announcement of a gas cut vindicated Ms von der Leyen’s initial proposal.
“This is exactly the sort of scenario the president was referring to last week and which led her ... to make the proposal ... to save gas,” the spokesman said, expressing hope that the member states would “adopt an appropriate response” as energy ministers meet.