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GIE Annual Conference: Europe’s energy security requires coordinated action and cross-sectoral cooperation

Overcoming the energy crisis under the dual pressure of climate emergency and the Russo-Ukrainian war was at the forefront of Gas Infrastructure Europe’s annual conference which took place in Budapest on 7-8 April.

For two days, Europe’s most important energy stakeholders, key decision-makers and experts, policymakers, regulators, investors, academia and media discussed the pressing matters concerning the decarbonisation of the European energy sector, meeting the continent’s gas demand through cooperation while ensuring the security of supply and robust energy policies.

“There is a renewed political will and practical need in decarbonising the EU”, Kadri Simson, the Commissioner for Energy underlined as she addressed the attendees during her speech at the conference.

“The events in Ukraine have caused us to double down on our decarbonisation goals and reminded us of an uncomfortable truth that we are too reliant on Russian fossil fuels. As long as we continue like this, we are not fully in control of our energy future. That needs to change.”

GIE Annual Conference
GIE Annual Conference. From the left: Boyana Achovski, GIE Secretary General; Torben Brabo, GIE President; MEP Cristian Bușoi, ITRE Committee Chair in the European Parliament; Dora Zombori, Ambassador-at-Large for Energy and Climate at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Commissioner reminded the attendees about the urgency of coordination in gas refilling and purchasing operations at the EU level. She stressed that optimising the use of existing gas infrastructure, including that of the liquefied natural gas is among the top priorities of the European Commission.

Ministers from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, the Member States that depend on the Russian gas supply heavily, emphasised the challenges they face on the path to phasing out dependency on Russian energy. Their common message was to strengthen inter-sectoral cooperation within and between their States together with the European Union and gas and LNG supplier countries.

“In Slovakia, about 85 per cent of gas is coming from Russia and we would like to get out of this situation. On the national level, we are meeting with all the partners that are dealing with the supply of oil and gas. Of course, there needs to be much more cooperation at the European level […]. We need to include not only the politicians but suppliers and consumers in the process”, said Karol Galek, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Economy of Slovakia.

Intensified coordination and quicker decision-making for securing energy supplies were the key messages of Attila Steiner, the State Secretary for the Development of Circular Economy, Energy & Climate Policy at the Ministry for Innovation and Technology of Hungary.

Similar to Slovakia, Hungary is a landlocked country whose gas demand is met by Russian supplies by 85 per cent. However, Mr Steiner noted that Hungary is in a much better situation now than thirteen years ago as the country has invested “quite a lot into the infrastructure”.

According to him, financing the European Commission’s plan to fill out the EU gas storage at 90 per cent will require at least 6 billion euros. Therefore, funding will become a key question for Member States, especially in Central and Eastern Europe.

“In Hungary, we have extra-large storage capacities and we can cover two-thirds of our consumption in storage but if we should fulfil the 90 per cent target, that would be a huge financial burden on the sector and on the budget of Hungary. So here we would like to propose some flexibility for landlocked countries. We would like to see some room for manoeuvring”, he emphasised.

The Czech Republic which produces only 2 per cent of its own gas, has its storage capacity at around 40 per cent currently.

“We are preparing with the industry, the gas traders and gas storage owners to find motivating mechanisms and fill our gas storage […]. We need to figure out how to buy new gas and prepare for the next winter. This is priority number one”, René Neděla, Deputy Minister for Energy of the Czech Republic said at the conference.

“The next step will be finding alternative routes and increasing energy efficiency to reduce consumption as much as possible. The third step is to increase the share of renewables and the fourth is to develop alternative gases such as biomethane, hydrogen and synthetic gases”, he added.

Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Climate and Environment of Poland, Adam Guibourgé-Czetwertyński underscored the importance of building more energy infrastructure to guarantee Poland’s and Europe’s energy security.

“We will need more investments in the infrastructure so that we can diversify our supply, get more LNG into Europe and allow us to reach our climate goals while at the same time, getting rid of Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible.”

Even though it will be a challenging task, according to him, Poland has made a decision to phase out Russian fossil fuels from its system by the end of 2022.

“It is logistically challenging and very costly but the cost is nothing in comparison to what is looming,” he concluded. “If we do not stop this war soon, the cost will be much worse for our economies.”

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