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The Hungarian FM Szijjártó in Moscow with Russian counterpart Lavrov. Screenshot from YouTube
Brussels

EU struggles to cancel winter

If that isn't a resounding slap in the face for Brussels: Hungary is negotiating with Russia about additional gas supplies. The Hungarian Foreign Minister Szijjártó was in Moscow for this purpose and was conferring there with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Explosive: the action took place without consultation with Brussels – and is thus tantamount to a direct affront to the address of the EU.

Published: July 27, 2022, 10:32 am

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    In addition to the quantities already agreed, the Hungarian guest announced in Moscow that his country wants to buy 700 million cubic meters of Russian gas this year. It is about Hungary’s energy security, he said. His Russian counterpart responded: “This request will be reported and considered immediately.”

    Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has already completely cut off the gas supply to several “unfriendly” European countries – including Poland and Bulgaria – because they refused to pay for the supplies in rubles, as demanded by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin.

    After the Russian operation in Ukraine started at the end of February, the EU passed several far-reaching sanctions packages against Moscow. Russia is also persistently refusing these sanctions. On the contrary, Hungarian President Orbán recently criticized the joint sanctions as harmful to Europe – to the displeasure of Brussels.

    Hungary meanwhile established a Defense Council headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with special powers to make political decisions.

    EU chief Von der Leyen’s gas winter plan is another dilemma for Brussels eurocrats: the so-called “Winter Plan” for gas consumption in the EU is on the verge of extinction after it has come into force. Already, the plan comes with exemptions, and according to Spanish broadcaster La Sexta, Spain and Portugal were unhappy about the deal and negotiated a 7 percent cut instead of 15 percent. Other exceptions have been made for island nations, Malta, Cyprus and Ireland, and the Baltic states.

    The reason for the broad rejection of the Brussels plan is the far-reaching regulatory powers that it envisages for the eurocrats. Brussels believes it should decide when to heat and when not. Decision-making competences are to be taken away from member states. In addition, political unity against Russia is to be forged – but precisely this unity is melting away more and more every day.

    In concrete terms, the winter plan stipulates that the member countries will consume 15 percent less gas in the eight months from August to March next year than in previous years. Above all, there is protest against the planned obligation to save gas. If, for example, private households and companies in a country do not voluntarily save enough gas and if the supply situation deteriorates dramatically, Brussels could set binding savings targets that the national governments have to meet.

    In an exceptional fast-track procedure, the project was to be approved by all energy ministers of the EU member states on Tuesday. Although commission chief von der Leyen had already reduced the obligation from two to one year, many states did not want to vote. A refusal has already been announced from Madrid that “no disproportionate sacrifices” would be made while Poland and Hungary announced that the savings targets were much too high. Island states like Ireland or Cyprus are not even connected to the European gas grid.

    The process that took place in Brussels on Tuesday is therefore on shaky ground because even before the vote, insiders strongly doubted the plan would get the full approval it needed. In addition to the energy ministers of all EU countries, the Ukrainian energy minister Halushchenko was also a guest. Commission chief von der Leyen actually wanted to present a united EU to him – but her project has not quite been going to plan.

    The European Union has exhausted its possibilities to introduce restrictive measures against the Russian Federation, noted French daily Le Monde, citing an unnamed diplomat.

    Gas prices in Europe for the first time since the beginning of March are above $2300. Danish Climate and Energy Minister Dan Jorgensen: In the event of a complete halt in Russian gas supplies to Europe, there could be a “real danger that Europeans will freeze”.

    If it happened that the gas would be completely cut off from the Russian side at the same time as the harsh winter, then there would be a real danger that the Europeans would freeze and the industry would have to close,” Danish Radio quoted Jorgensen as saying.

    US presidential coordinator for global energy Amos Hochstein has seen the writing on the wall. Hochstein held emergency meetings in Paris and Brussels to discuss US-European contingency planning to deal with gas shortages as well as extending nuclear power operations. The gas crisis undermined the European Union’s unity against Moscow, CNN reported citing US officials: “It [the gas shortage] will be a major test of European resilience and unity against Russia.”

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