Europe unprepared for Russia gas crisis

9th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Czechs say two-thirds of the 27 EU member states have been hit by the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which has left tens of thousands without heating fuel.

Prague -- The European Union was ill-prepared for the Russia gas crisis and needs better contingency planning and infrastructure, the Czech EU presidency said Thursday.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra noted that some EU nations had made "some symbolic gestures" toward those countries worst hit when Russia turned off the gas tap which runs through Ukraine and provides some 40 percent of Europe's imports of natural gas.

Poland for example was sending truckloads of gas to Slovakia, he told reporters after an EU meeting in Prague.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, also attending the talks, cited German help for Hungary, adding that "we are ready to help Slovenia, just in case of emergencies."

Hungary has also agreed to help Serbia.

"Unfortunately ... we are not very well prepared for that, we need to elaborate a mechanism on how to deal with contingency planning for situations like this," said Vondra.

He said two-thirds of the 27 EU member states have been hit by the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, which has left tens of thousands without heating fuel, with those in Eastern Europe particularly badly hit.

EU legislation foresees a solidarity mechanism on energy matters in case of crisis in any EU nations. However the gas pipeline system within the bloc does not allow for such solidarity to be effectively applied.

"There is no short-term solution for providing the states which have a gas shortage with existing stocks," a French diplomat bemoaned. "For that we would have to reinforce the network within the EU."

The diplomat regretted that such an initiative was not taken earlier but also highlighted the most basic obstacle to such a system being introduced.

"We understand that it is not easy for a country to pilfer its own stocks to give to others," he said.

European Union energy ministers will hold an emergency meeting in Brussels on Monday to study ways to improve the system for helping out fellow member states.

EU experts were also due to meet on Friday to consider what measures could be taken rapidly for the worst-hit countries.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said it was "unacceptable" that the Russia-Ukraine dispute should hit their European customers, while adding "we also want to see more solidarity within our member states.

"There is no common policy yet but I think more and more people understand there has to be a common energy policy," she said.

Meanwhile, European countries scrambled Thursday to ensure gas was available through a bitterly cold winter, as the Russian cuts marked their third day.

By limiting gas consumption, switching energy sources and drawing on their reserves, many governments said they could guarantee enough supplies for weeks if not months to come.

Here is a look at how the cuts are affecting various European countries:

AUSTRIA: Household gas supplies are assured for three months, Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner says, with deliveries favouring the largest industrial consumers. The country has 1.7 billion cubic metres of gas in reserve.

BOSNIA: Totally dependent on Russian gas supplies, Bosnia has begun rationing gas, leaving a third of the population in capital Sarajevo spending Wednesday night without heat. Hardest hit, the city has begun tapping alternative heating sources like heating oil, with the city hall also ordering carbon and fuelwood to be distributed to households.

BULGARIA: Almost completely dependent (92 percent) on Russian gas, Bulgaria has begun limiting supplies to industry and urging households to reduce consumption. Medical operations are barred except for emergencies, lighting in the capital reduced, schools closed and heating cut in public transport during rush hour.

CROATIA: Proclaiming an energy state of emergency, the government has reduced gas shipments to the largest industrial consumers. But Croatia can guarantee supplies to households, hospitals and schools for three weeks thanks to local production covering 60 percent of needs.

FRANCE: While Russian gas represents 16 percent of total French gas consumption, Prime Minister Francois Fillon claims Kiev-Moscow dispute will not effect the country's supplies "in the medium-term."

GERMANY: Germany still has access to Russian gas via Belarus and authorities say it also has significant reserves. Still the national energy agency has urged authorities to curb their dependence on Russian gas.

GREECE: Household gas supplies are guaranteed, but industries may face cuts as of Sunday if Russian deliveries don't return to normal, national Public Gas Corporation says.

ITALY: The government says Italy has two months' worth of reserves and has taken steps to secure deliveries from other gas suppliers. Italy also inked a deal with Albania last month to get gas supplies from across the Adriatic Sea.

POLAND: The government took no further measures Thursday, after having announced supply restrictions to chemical giant Pulawy and oil group PKN Orlen the day before. Russia's cut is tempered by gas imports from Belarus.

ROMANIA: With reserves estimated at 2.2 billion cubic meters, authorities say they can hold out for six months without Russian gas imports. Bucharest has nonetheless called for tapping alternative energy sources.

SERBIA: Hungary will supply up to two cubic meters of gas daily for about a million people living in energy-strapped northern Vojvodina province. Belgrade is targeting local production for "priority" consumers, the state-owned gas company says.

SLOVAKIA: Prime Minister Robert Fico says the country may reopen a closed nuclear power plant if the gas cuts continue.


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