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Olaf Scholz says Germany 'will manage better this winter'
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Germany could be forced to make “compromises” as it runs out of gas to power industry and heat homes, according to a Russia expert. The comments come as the German gas regulator in charge of rationing supply in the event of a crisis said that household consumption in Europe’s economic powerhouse was too high.
Germany’s reliance on Russian gas was made all too clear in February, when Russia invaded Ukraine. Years of German Government policy of purchasing cheap Russian natural gas led to a shock after Putin turned off the taps in response to Western sanctions.
It’s unlikely to get easier for Germany as it heads into what could be a very cold winter. On Thursday, September 29, Germany’s network regulator, the Federal Network Agency, said consumption of gas in German households was up 14.5 percent last week compared to the average of the last four years.
That news comes as German local governments are already rationing gas – in Hamburg monuments are not being lit up at night to save electricity and hot water usage in public buildings is being restricted.
Russia expert Professor Pete Duncan at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies said the situation could force Germany to make compromises as the public blames the war in Ukraine for the lack of energy.
He said: “We still can’t be sure even now, I’m afraid, how the Germans are going to react. Especially if the winter is cold as they do start running out, and they are being told to ration, it seems.”
The UK is much less reliant on Russian gas, only around three percent of its gas came from Russia at the start of the war. The knock-on market effects, for example soaring energy costs, are at least partly attributable to the war in Ukraine, however.
Prof Pete Duncan added: “On the whole, in Britain, if people can’t afford to heat their houses, they’ll probably blame either the energy companies or the Government. They won’t blame Putin.
“Whereas in Germany, I think the tendency is they probably will blame Putin. And there will be pressure on the German Government to make compromises, to make a settlement, I fear, if it gets cold and there isn’t enough gas to keep people warm.”
Germany is currently at phase two of a three-stage emergency plan as Russian gas from Nord Stream 1 has been shut off and Germany’s reserves are dwindling.
The current high consumption could be due to colder than average temperatures but the Federal Network Agency’s President Klaus Mueller said that the high rates could lead to an emergency situation.
He said: “The numbers for that week are thus very sobering. Without significant savings in the private area of consumption, it will be difficult to avoid an emergency situation in winter.”
Private consumption of gas, mainly in homes, in Germany amounts to around 40 percent of usage while industry accounts for 60 percent. In the event of an emergency situation, it is likely industry would be the first to shut down – something which could be devastating for the Eurozone economy.
Although the shortage of Russian gas looms large in German politics, the German Government has so far still committed its support for Ukraine.
However, cracks are starting to from in the EU’s unified front against Russian aggression. Thursday, September 29, Hungary announced that it could not support fresh sanctions against Russia.
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Earlier in the week, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed sanctions against Russia had “backfired”.
His chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said of the new sanctions: “Hungary has done a lot already to maintain European unity but if there are energy sanctions in the package, then we cannot and will not support it.”
The EU needs unanimity to impose the sanctions, meaning that Hungary could be a block for tighter restrictions against Russia.
As the European Union enters winter, tough months likely lie ahead. It’s possible domestic pressure could force the EU to come to some kind of compromise on sanctions targeting Russia over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
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