New EU law forces gas suppliers to guarantee supplies
European lawmakers forced energy companies Tuesday to guarantee household gas supplies during political disputes with exporters or extreme temperatures.
New laws passed by the European parliament, by 601 to 27, mean that countries and companies will have to ensure they can meet demand even if price wars with the likes of Russia, the EU's main supplier, lead to the gas tap being turned off.
Relations between transit partners in Russia's former Soviet sphere of influence have frequently raised fears over recent years about threats to Europe's supply, which is hugely dependent on imports from Russia.
EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger welcomed the end of a legal obstacle course and said 1.4 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars) had been set aside to help in "infrastructure projects such as reverse flows" of gas to enable the rules to be applied mainly in eastern European states.
Member states will have to ensure that "even if their biggest source of gas or a large part of the network fails," they can meet those commitments.
Parliament officials said that "in the event of extremely low temperatures," which differ according to national norms, suppliers will now have to meet household needs "during a seven-day peak period."
Likewise, domestic customers would be guaranteed gas during "any period of at least 30 days of exceptionally high demand" or "at least 30 days in the event of infrastructure disruption under average winter conditions."
Long the bridesmaid of European Union institutions, the parliament is now a cornerstone of EU law since the Lisbon treaty's entry into force last year.
But under the complex system of negotiations needed to pilot through new EU-wide laws, national authorities will get up to four years in which to comply.
© 2010 AFP