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EU ministers will meet to discuss Russia's natural gas disruptions

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

European Union energy ministers meet in Brussels today to look at options for getting through this winter in the midst of unprecedented Russian gas cuts and skyrocketing energy prices.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As the EU tries to wean itself off of Russian gas, Russian President Vladimir Putin has predicted that European solidarity will splinter in the hard months ahead.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Brussels.

Eleanor, what's the situation in Europe? What's happening today?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, as we speak, energy ministers from 27 EU nations are meeting to discuss a list of possible options for bringing prices down and getting through the winter. Europe has decreased its consumption of Russian gas from 40% to less than 10%. And its reserve targets for the winter are nearly full. But it's still going to be a very difficult winter, and not just this winter. I spoke with Francois-Regis Mouton, who's with the International Oil and Gas Producers Association in Europe. And here's what he told me.

FRANCOIS-REGIS MOUTON: Even if you boost any other alternatives from now on to 2026, 2027, Europe will not be able to supply its gas demand.

BEARDSLEY: So that's going to mean that some businesses won't make it. Things will have to change. But he said the good news is that high prices will encourage the development of other sources, like liquefied natural gas. And he says there will hopefully be a rebalancing of the market in a few years and that the EU will no longer be dependent on Russian energy. But Europe has to survive until then.

MARTINEZ: Yes, they do. Now, what are the options the EU ministers are considering today?

BEARDSLEY: Right. So already governments like Germany and France are spending billions to prop up consumers, but they can't do that forever. And the main things that have support from EU members are decreasing demand across the continent, across the board, industry and households. Governments are already launching campaigns to lower thermostats, turn out lights. Right now it's voluntary, but this could become mandatory. Europe needs to cut energy consumption by 15%. Another option is taxing companies making windfall profits - for example, people making electricity without gas, nuclear.

They've had huge, unexpected profits because of inflated prices - so funneling some of those profits to consumers, back to governments. And there's also talk of granting credit lines to state utility companies that have been shut out of energy futures markets because they've become too volatile because of Russia cutting the gas on and off. Now, there's also been talk of capping Russian gas prices. But so far, that has not gotten wide EU support. The thinking is it could further distort the market and discourage alternative suppliers.

MARTINEZ: Now, I think it's probably fair to say that Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that this European solidarity won't last. So what are they saying in Brussels?

BEARDSLEY: Well, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said Putin's energy blackmail and his war will fail. She said Europe will prevail. People I talked to say there's really no choice now. They say, you know, Russia cannot be allowed to win the war in Ukraine. And there's a second factor really pushing things, pushing towards decarbonization and diversifying energy sources. That's climate change. It's here. Europe had a destructive summer of drought, heat waves and fires, and that's really helped convince people that the time to get off fossil fuels is now, and there's no going back. But, of course, getting unity among the 27 won't be easy. If the winter's harsh, we could see rationing, blackouts, and governments fear social unrest.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Brussels.

Eleanor, thanks.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.