Remarks by Commissioner Simson at the press conference of the Energy Council meeting

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Thank you very much, Barbara, and good evening to everyone.

Today’s energy Council took place in extraordinary, tragic circumstances – as war is raging in Europe and the people of Ukraine are fighting for their lives, their country and their freedom. This is the moment when Europe must stand by them.

So let me begin with the most important topic on our agenda – supporting Ukraine. I have always worked closely with Ukraine, to support market reforms and the modernisation of their energy system.

In recent months, I have stepped up the contacts, to reinforce the country’s security of supply. In these last days I have been in constant contact with Ukraine’s energy minister German Galushchenko.

One project that has been our joint priority for a long time is synchronising the Ukrainian power grid with the European Continental Grid – instead of Russia. This is a strategic initiative for increasing Ukraine’s energy independence.

The same day that Ukraine begun conducting an isolation mode test, the first step in preparation for the future synchronisation with the EU, the Russian military forces attacked the country.

I spoke to Minister Galushchenko again yesterday and he has informed me that in the current situation, they have decided not to reconnect their grid back to Russia. As a result, Ukraine is asking for emergency synchronisation with the European grid as soon as possible.

This is technically challenging. But, as Europe, this is something tangible we can do for our partners. I spoke today with the President and the Chair of the Board of ENTSO-E – our electricity grid operators – and expressed my strong support for the emergency synchronisation. Today at the Council, I have asked the ministers for their support as well. There was a broad agreement around the table.

Based on this, we will move forward with ENTSO-E to connect Ukraine’s electricity system as quickly as possible. This step would also link Moldova to the EU grid – another country that wants to be able to choose its energy future.

We also continue to work on delivering gas to Ukraine through physical reverse gas flow capacity from West to East. The first such deliveries from Hungary took place this winter. The physical reverse flow capacity between Slovakia and Ukraine has been increased and discussions are ongoing to extend this to the next heating seasons.

Ukraine also needs our very practical, immediate help. Today I presented to the Member States a list of requests from Ukraine with urgent needs in the energy sector. The list covers things like diesel, petrol, jet fuel and generators. I am happy to report that concrete deliveries are already scheduled from Poland, Lithuania and Czechia and many other Member States have pledged their help.

Finally, we have agreed to keep under close monitoring the safety of the nuclear power plants in Ukraine, and expressed support to yesterday’s statement from ENSREG – Europe’s body of nuclear safety regulators.

We are doing and will continue to do our utmost to help Ukraine in their struggle against lethal aggression.

At the same time, this war will have deep repercussions, one way or another, on our own energy system.

We have been conducting a preparedness exercise, to make sure that the EU can withstand the impact of potential supply disruptions due to the war. I briefed the ministers today on our risk-assessment work and contingency planning.

It is our current assessment that the EU can get through this winter safely.  At the moment, gas flows from East to West continue, LNG deliveries to the EU have increased significantly and the weather forecast is favourable. The use of gas from storage has slowed down and we are still around 30% of storage capacity filled. Ministers have confirmed that their national and regional preparedness plans are ready and updated.

That said, risks remain. Following the measures taken by the EU and the international community to sanction Russia, we cannot exclude that Russia will take retaliatory steps that will impact energy trade. A full disruption would be a challenge for us, but we have tools in place to handle the implications.

We discussed the potential for additional or alternative gas supplies. Ministers have asked to continue the work President von der Leyen and I have been doing, reaching out to pipeline and LNG suppliers.

We have already seen a steep increase of LNG to Europe in January and February, with LNG imports now around 10 bcm per month, the highest level ever in the EU.

Increasing the amount of LNG further requires EU-level coordination to maximise the use of infrastructure and make sure that gas ends up where it’s mostly needed.

To make this happen, I have announced that the Commission will set up a platform and contact groups with relevant Member States and LNG operators.

In any case, we will reach the end of this winter with an exceptionally low level of gas storage. If current trends continue, our latest projection of storage for April is 18%, compared to over 30% the previous years. It is imperative that we start already now to plan for a sufficient level of gas storage ahead of the next heating season.

In December last year, we proposed targeted measures to better integrate storage into regional and national risk assessments and enable joint procurement of strategic gas stocks, as well as strengthening solidarity between Member States. I have asked the ministers to speed up the adoption of these proposals.

Meanwhile, Members States in the risk coordination groups should already now assess how to collectively ensure a certain level of gas storage in their region. As not all Member States have storage capacities available on their territory, regional co-ordination will be crucial.

Some Member States have also announced that they are fast-tracking legislation that imposes minimum filling obligations at national level, which is already possible under EU law.

It is also very important that Member States conclude outstanding solidarity arrangements with their neighbours without delay. We only have very few of them finalised, which means that an element of our security architecture is still missing. We cannot afford that.

The war against Ukraine is not only a watershed moment for the security architecture in Europe, but for our energy system as well. It has made our vulnerability painfully clear. We cannot let any third country destabilise our energy markets or influence our energy choices.

In the shorter term, we need to further diversify our gas supplies away from Russia and ensure that all market participants play by the rules of the game. But, ultimately, the best and the only lasting solution is the Green Deal – boosting renewables and energy efficiency as fast as technically possible.

On all those issues, we need a clear political roadmap. For this, the Commission is working on a follow-up to the October Toolbox Communication to reinforce both short- and mid-term measures against price volatility and security of supply risks. I have listened to the ministers’ views on these issues. Today’s discussion will inform our work in the coming days. I expect we will be ready to present our new Communication next week, in Strasbourg.

Our meeting also touched on the oil market situation.

The rise in oil prices causes concern across the world and this has created a discussion whether a coordinated release by IEA members of part of the existing strategic reserve would be necessary to stabilise the market.

All 27 EU Member States are required to have emergency oil stocks of at least 90 days. Currently, most of our Member States have reserves larger than that.

Releasing part of these stocks is a powerful tool that Member States can use, but the right conditions have to be in place.

Today, ministers expressed their readiness to act at the appropriate moment based on further analysis and I have offered to coordinate the Member States positions on this. I have spoken today with US Energy Secretary Granholm and I will attend the IEA Governing Board tomorrow, where this topic will be on the table.

I want to end by thanking Barbara for convening today’s meeting.

I cannot emphasise enough how important it is in the current situation to work closely together, to remain united and to put our collective power behind policies that are on the right side of history.

Thank you.

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