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EU to protect householders from gas supply crises

European householders would be protected from gas supply crises under draft legislation approved by the European Parliament's Industry Committee today.

The draft legislation lays down EU-wide co-ordination procedures and interconnection requirements which should manage gas-supply crises better and protect householders in the EU from having to go without gas due to such crises.

The proposed regulation, prompted by the 2008 and 2009 gas crises, when supplies of Russian gas through Ukraine to the EU were disrupted due to disputes between Moscow and Kiev, aims to remedy a lack of co-ordination and interconnected infrastructure among EU Member States.

Customer protection

Market mechanisms are the first and best line of defence against possible supply disruptions, say Euro-MPs, and national crisis prevention plans should be based primarily on these mechanisms, leaving non-market measures as a very last resort. National plans, based on risk assessments meeting common requirements, must be ready within two years at most of the regulation's entry into force.

However, in a gas supply crisis, householders' supplies would be first in line for protection under the new rules. Member States may also designate additional protected customers, such as small and medium sized enterprises and essential social services, provided that the latter do not use more than 20% of the national gas supply.

In the event of extremely low temperatures, gas supply companies would be required to ensure supplies to protected customers for a seven day peak period and for 30 days of exceptionally high demand, during the coldest weather, or for 30 days in the event of infrastructure disruption under average winter conditions.

Preventive action plans

Member States will need to ensure that even if their biggest gas infrastructure fails, the remaining network is capable of meeting total daily gas demand on a day of "exceptionally high demand" (which, statistically, happens once every 20 years).

National authorities will have four years to comply with this supply standard, by building additional storage capacity, introducing reverse flow technology, ensuring connections to the integrated EU gas network and by ending any dependence on a single third-country gas supplier. Cross-border interconnections among Member States will have to be in place within 3 years of the regulation's entry into force.

The European Commission will assess the national plans and request changes if they prove inconsistent with those of other EU Member States countries or could endanger their security of supply. The Member States concerned will then have four months in which to improve their plans.

Emergency measures

If, despite these preventive measures, an emergency were to happen due to a serious disruption or exceptionally high demand, then the Member State concerned would activate a national emergency response.

The three main crisis levels are "early warning", "alert" and "emergency". In the event of an emergency, plans must ensure that cross-border access to storage facilities and the flow of gas across borders are maintained.

EU emergency response

The European Commission would have to declare a "Union emergency" or a regional emergency at the request of at least two Member States who have declared national emergencies. During a Union emergency, the Commission would be responsible for ensuring a smooth exchange of information, the consistency of national actions and co-ordination with third countries.

The text notes that co-operation between the following countries, among others, could enhance their gas supply security:

- Poland and the three Baltic States,
- Spain, Portugal and France
- Ireland and United Kingdom,
- Bulgaria, Greece, Romania,
- Denmark and Sweden,
- Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Romania,
- Poland and Germany,
- France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, and
- Germany, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

Next steps

The report by Alejo Vidal Quadras (EPP, ES), with compromise amendments, was approved in committee with 54 votes in favour, none against and one abstention. It will be put to a plenary vote at the September II session in Strasbourg.


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