EU commits to phasing out dependency on Russian fossil fuels

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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen delivers a statement to the media prior to a meeting with Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi at EU headquarters in Brussels, Monday, March 7, 2022. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS – The European Union is seeking to fully phase out its reliance on Russian energy “well before 2030” to ensure the 27-nation bloc no longer faces difficult decisions about hurting their own economies in geopolitical crises like the invasion of Ukraine.

The EU leaders meet in Versailles outside Paris for a two-day summit starting Thursday and will be working on ways to “phase out our dependency on Russian gas, oil and coal imports,” said a draft of the summit declaration seen by The Associated Press.

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The European Commission unveiled proposals Tuesday to make that happen, including diversifying natural gas supplies and speeding up renewable energy development. The EU’s executive arm said its measures “can reduce EU demand for Russian gas by two-thirds before the end of the year.”

“We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas,” commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.”

The EU imports 90% of the natural gas used to generate electricity, heat homes and supply industry, with Russia supplying almost 40% of EU gas and a quarter of its oil.

For well over a decade, the EU has felt increasingly stuck when it came to addressing its deteriorating relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the prospect of leaving tens of millions shivering in the winter cold because of a dearth of fossil fuels or sky-high prices limited the political options.

The invasion of Ukraine was a gamechanger, and within two weeks, the EU has rallied to prepare a more robust energy policy. But it still hasn't signed on to sanctioning Russian energy, even with the U.S. and the United Kingdom announcing bans on Russian oil imports.

Already committed to the rapid development of renewables because of climate change, they will accelerate the process now to buttress their political independence, too.

The EU needs to “dash into renewable energy at lightning speed,” said Frans Timmermans, commission executive vice president in charge of its effort to reduce climate emissions.

A key partner will be Germany, which is among many EU nations exposed to Russian clout over energy supplies.

“We know, and we have to admit it, that we have maneuvered ourselves into an ever-greater dependency on fossil energy imports from Russia in the last 20 years,” said Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck. “All the German government’s, the country’s, efforts are going toward reducing this dependency as quickly as possible and then using the energy policy room for maneuver we have gained, including in security policy terms.”

Energy prices have been high for months because of low supplies, driving up the cost of everything from utility bills to food as businesses pass along their costs to customers.

Besides ramping up renewables, the EU's commission said Europe could diversify its energy supply by purchasing more liquefied natural gas brought by ship instead of through pipelines from Russia and by getting more pipeline imports from non-Russian suppliers. Those could include Norway and Azerbaijan.

Larger volumes of biomethane from organic sources such as agricultural waste and production of hydrogen for fuel cells could contribute, too.

The EU commission also said it would seek legislation to require that underground gas reserves be filled to at least 90% by the start of the winter heating season. Failure to do that this year led to extremely high gas prices.

The commission said it also was looking at more measures to help consumers, such as temporary limits to electricity prices.

Execution of much of the EU’s plan rests with national governments that all have different energy mixes and levels of vulnerability to a gas embargo or cutoff. Germany, Italy and several Eastern European EU members are most dependent.

Europe’s pipeline system is not set up so that shipments of liquefied gas can easily reach all corners of the continent. While liquefied gas shipments have increased, energy analysts say a total cutoff of Russian gas could only be overcome by forced reduction in gas use, first by industrial users.


AP writer Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin.

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