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This is how Spain avoided the risk of a drastic cut in gas to companies and households

2022-07-31T10:30:59.559Z


The Commission's proposal for a linear 15% cut in consumption caused chills in the Spanish Executive, which quickly mobilized to neutralize the blow. In part, it has succeeded


The Spanish Third Vice President and Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, and the German Minister of Economy and Climate Protection, Robert Habeck.STEPHANIE LECOCQ (EFE)

The end of the European legislative course kept one last, unexpected and dangerous curve for July that surprised the Government of Pedro Sánchez and forced him to swerve.

The European Commission proposed on Wednesday of last week a 15% cut in gas consumption for all EU partners, including those not dependent on supplies from Russia.

Upon learning the figure, the Spanish Executive felt a chill at a measure that, according to Spanish sources, could force a stoppage in certain industrial sectors and jeopardize the economic recovery achieved after the pandemic.

In the worst case scenario, the outage could have affected households if the savings plan was aggravated by bad weather or a supply problem with providers other than Russia.

The department of the Third Vice President of the Government and Minister of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, quickly mobilized to neutralize the coup.

In part, she has achieved it: "In a week, something that was very harmful has become something beneficial for Spain and the EU," sources from the negotiation point out.

That "something beneficial" has prevented the energy saving plan prepared by Sánchez from being less drastic than what could be glimpsed a week earlier.

The Spanish counterattack, which was followed by six days of vertigo, began with some thunderous statements by Ribera on Wednesday, when Brussels unveiled its cards.

Those words of the Spanish representative surprised a Community Executive unaccustomed to one of the most pro-European countries coming out with an answer.

"Unlike other countries, we have not lived beyond our possibilities from the energy point of view," fired the

number four

of the Spanish Government.

In the delegation of a Member State, which is not Spain and which has played a determining role in the final result, they describe these words with a certain diplomacy: “It was the clearest reaction”.

But the first murmurs of protest had already emerged in early July at the meetings of the permanent representatives of the Member States to the EU, the so-called Coreper.

The Commission's idea of ​​addressing the possible interruption of Russian gas supply as a problem for the Twenty-seven and not just for the countries directly affected caused rejection in the territories less dependent on Moscow, including Spain.

Diplomatic sources recall that even then the question was raised as to why all countries should sacrifice themselves because of the errors of Germany's energy policy, which for years not only did not reduce its dependence on the Kremlin but increased it.

Comparison with the euro crisis,

In the middle of the month, a first draft with the Commission's plans is circulating in a document entitled

Save gas for a safe winter.

The report, whose content was revealed by EL PAÍS on the 14th, raised the need to reduce gas consumption from this summer in anticipation that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, closes the tap on the gas pipelines.

But he did not specify the magnitude of the cut: he left it in an unknown of X%.

Clearing that X would be the subject of tense negotiations for days.

"Yes, there were talks, although without much response," say sources from one of the countries dissatisfied with what the Commission presented.

These exchanges were held with a view to the meeting of the commissioners on the 20th. The teams of the European Executive, in particular those of the president, Ursula von der Leyen, those of the vice president, Frans Timmermans, and those of the Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, worked hard — “day and night”, according to a source involved in the work — to finish off the first coordinated energy saving plan in the history of the EU.

“There were many contacts, with Spain and with other countries.

Sánchez and Von der Leyen even talked about this on the phone,” community sources respond,

The alarms went off in Madrid in the final stretch of these technical works.

On the 19th, the eve of the critical meeting, the Spanish Executive goes into battle.

The draft still maintains the X. But it is accompanied by a draft regulation that establishes a voluntary cut between August 1 and March 31, 2023, in principle voluntary but likely to become mandatory if Brussels considers the saving measures insufficient.

The die is cast: the Commission has opted for the most extreme scenario, which includes a total cut of Russian gas and a harsh winter, and proposes a saving of 45,000 million cubic meters, an amount equivalent to a 15% cut in consumption In all countries.

"We knew there were going to be claims for improvement [for each country], but we deliberately aimed high to achieve the most ambitious result possible," admitted a senior Commission official after closing the final document.

Even so, the European commissioners from southern countries, including the vice president of the Commission Josep Borrell, fought to prevent the cut from being the same for everyone.

"But Von der Leyen had already bought the 15% thesis," recalls a community source.

The pressure from the capitals, however, is redoubled and the Commission agrees to modulate its proposal.

The Euro-officials in charge of the plan twist article 5 of the draft regulation on Tuesday night to fit a kind of "Iberian exception", following the model of the one that allowed Spain and Portugal to put a ceiling on the price of gas to contain the escalation of the electric bill.

The final wording ended very late and the authors went to bed convinced that the new article, which will allow the Iberian Peninsula to lower its savings plan to 10%, will meet Spain's demands.

Big mistake.

On Wednesday, before the Commission meeting, you see the European Commissioners from the Socialist ranks, including Timmermans and Borrell: night and day.

Several speakers, according to sources present at the meeting, complain bitterly of not having known the details of the proposal until the last minute.

The Spanish is leading the protests, but other commissioners, such as the Italian Paolo Gentiloni, opt for maintaining the consensus given the geostrategic importance of a project that aims to stand up to Putin's energy blackmail.

Timmermans also distrusts the Spanish position and considers that its gas system has a much greater re-export capacity to other EU countries than what Ribera offers.

The socialists finally

Despite everything, Borrell manages to get the final text to include the "Iberian exception" and leave Spain's savings five points below the EU average.

"Ribera does not consider it enough," whisper European sources shortly after the proposal was approved.

And so it is: the vice president explodes in public with the aforementioned statements.

That phrase, “Unlike other countries, we Spaniards have not lived beyond our means from an energy point of view”, is a very clear reference to the euro crisis and a depth charge against Germany and its allies, including Timmermans Holland.

But solidarity with Berlin seems unquestionable in most capitals.

“It is the first time that Germany has asked for something in years.

We had to be understanding, and more so after the recovery fund”,

The onslaught of the vice president causes stupor in the Commission.

It is not usual in Spain.

Although, as they recall in a delegation that is usually heard, Ribera and Sánchez have already shown in recent months that they are willing to play hard in the face of an energy crisis that is pushing up inflation in a pre-election year.

At the European summit in March, the President of the Government left the table in the face of the refusal of other European leaders to allow him to adopt exceptional measures to contain the escalation of the electricity bill.

It soon became clear that Spain was not alone.

She was accompanied by Portugal, Poland, Malta, Hungary... The meeting of the permanent representatives on Friday the 22nd “was the hardest”, points out a negotiator.

For days before, the telephones of Ribera and Sánchez were fuming.

Also those of the Czech Energy Minister, whose country chairs the EU Council this semester, who spoke "several times" with his Spanish counterpart.

The role of the Czech presidency in reaching an agreement in just six days is praised by most of the sources consulted for this article.

They tried to show understanding and empathy with all parties at all times, and opted for unanimity from the start.

They almost succeeded, only Hungary came off the hook, a country that is beginning to be considered impossible given its proximity to Russia.

The Czechs could have carried the proposal forward without such overwhelming support because it only required a qualified majority, but they chose not to isolate any State and to try to make the most reticent ones see that the final result would be better for their interests if they entered the agreement .

The Spanish attitude helped.

In the federal committee of the PSOE on the 23rd, Sánchez emphasized "solidarity" when talking about energy and Europe, recalls one of those present.

Sources of the negotiation explain that Madrid always tried to show that the text was not rejected outright, but that they tried to understand the Spanish energy particularity (little interconnection and, therefore, little capacity to send gas and electricity abroad): “ From the first day they worked for the agreement”.

Hence, Ribera's team ruled out presenting a joint letter with other countries also reluctant to the Commission's proposal (Portugal, Italy or Poland).

They did not want to give the impression of a clash of blocks and put more obstacles.

The pact began to make its way between Sunday night and Monday morning, according to one of its handlers.

The second text presented by the Czech Presidency won supporters.

But there was only one day left for the meeting of the Council of EU Energy Ministers.

The technical work accelerated with another meeting of permanent representatives and in the middle of the afternoon a

little push

came from Moscow: Gazprom announced that it was reducing the supply of gas through Nord Stream 1. In the middle of the negotiation, the ears of the wolf appeared.

“It helped from a political point of view, not a technical one,” admit diplomatic sources.

So on Monday night "something similar to an agreement in principle" was already appearing, according to a text message sent that same night from a delegation.

Other sources confirm it, although they clarify: “he was caught with tweezers.

We went to sleep with some doubts.

Details were missing."

With the horizon almost clear, Ribera arrives at the meeting in peace, but reluctantly.

“We are obliged to say yes”, he pointed out with resignation, although it already seemed that he had achieved that the exemptions that were applied to Spain would force it to consume only 7% less gas, and not 15%, in case of that the alert be activated, and the Commission accepts Madrid's arguments, where appropriate.

Furthermore, the Russian threat left little room for rejection.

It is not only a question of savings, but also a message of political unity addressed to Moscow and, in this scenario, nobody wants to appear in the photo with Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, who is openly pro-Russian.

In addition, normally no State manages to come out of a negotiation with all its demands satisfied.

The appointment was resolved in a few hours, at the same speed at which the negotiations had developed throughout the week.

As a good connoisseur of the European energy agenda pointed out on Friday morning, this chapter is somewhat small for what is coming in the fall: “The battle for the reform of the European electricity market is going to open.

Greece has already submitted a proposal.

Gas is losing weight and cannot continue to be such a determining factor in prices.

This is going to be the topic for the next few months.”

Hours later, Sánchez played the attack again and announced that he was taking up Spain's proposal to the EU to change the electricity market.

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Source: elparis

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