Fears of more prices hikes and shortages leaving households cold next winter have grown as gas supplies from Russia slowed substantially. European officials accuse the Kremlin of retaliating to Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon. And therefore, in any event, whether it is partial, major cut off Russian, or total cut off Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready,” Von der Leyen told a news conference in Brussels.
“We have to prepare for a potential full disruption of Russian gas,” she added. “And this is a likely scenario.”
The fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine has highlighted European dependence on Russian energy.
In a summer of record heat, the 27-nation bloc is now scrambling to store supplies ahead of the winter in case Moscow turns off the tap.
Wednesday’s proposal — the European Gas Demand Reduction Plan — asks governments to switch from gas to alternative fuels, incentivizes industries to curb consumption and lists ways for consumers to save on heating and cooling. The plan, which requires approval from a majority of member states, would allow the Commission, the EU executive branch, to regulate energy cuts.
“Energy saved in summer is energy available for winter,” read an announcement on the new proposal and legislation.
Facing the risk of disruptions, Germany has been making contingency plans amid worries that Moscow may not reconnect the Nord Stream 1 pipeline at the end of scheduled maintenance on Thursday. Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested this week that gas supply through the pipeline would resume but at curved capacity.
Reduced deliveries were already affecting almost half the countries in the block, according to Von der Leyen.
“Overall the flow of Russian gas is now less than one third what it used to be at the same time last year,” she said as she urged households, public offices, industries to start rationing.
Francis reported from London.