The European Parliament's Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) on March 18 is expected to approve the final draft of a proposed rule to ensure a quick and effective EU response to a natural gas crisis. The main problem is that the key question of what threshold level will trigger a EU state of emergency is far from settled. The compromise proposals presented so far refer back to the rules already in force and don't meet expectations, notably in Poland.

"We would like the EU to start the assistance system as soon as a state finds that its natural gas supplies from a third-party country have been cut by 10%," said European Deputy Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP). He noted that the proposed compromise would trigger community assistance only after supplies at the EU level fell 20%, with the 10% threshold applicable only for certain specified geographical regions.

Poland would be hurt by threshold

Other provisions in the bill, notably those relating to community resources in a crisis situation, are less controversial. Those provisions deal with the implementation of a mutual assistance system that would notably free up natural gas reserves and move them to countries in need. A consensus has already been reached on some measures backed by Poland, such as granting the European Commission a more powerful role in managing a shortage crisis and the introduction of an energy solidarity mechanism. EU countries would thus free up their reserves in an emergency, while the Commission would play a facilitating role in that process.

The bill also calls for the installation of natural gas pipeline interconnections with reversed flow capacity to move supplies where needed in the event of an emergency. As for the thorny issue of when to start the community aid flowing, a number of specialists say Poland would be hurt by the 20%-cut threshold. If, as contemplated in the bill, Poland were placed in the same geographical region as Germany and the Baltic countries, then the country would have no grounds to call on the EU support mechanism even if it were lacking 1.5 billion cubic metres of natural gas. That's because given the region's size, it would take a shortage of 7 billion cubic metres to trigger the community aid.

Furthermore, the assistance would have to be assured at the regional level and would therefore necessarily have to come from a neighbouring country. And in our region, only Germany would be in a position to do that. After a first reading in Parliament, likely in May, the rule is expected to be approved by the Council, where new amendments can be expected. It's reasonable to assume that member states unaffected by recent natural gas supply problems and crises will not be too hot on the idea of European energy supply solidarity. Furthermore, for most EU countries, Europe's energy security is associated with the Nord Stream gas pipeline being jointly built by the Germans and Russians, and soon to be joined by the French.