As Germany declared the second phase of its national emergency plan for natural gas, Belgium does not have to declare an "early warning" for its gas supply today, but that does not mean the situation is not serious, said Federal Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten.
After it announced that it would fire up its coal power plants again, Germany became the first European country to declare the 'alert phase' of its national emergency gas supply plan on Thursday due to the reduced gas supply from Russia, which Germany called "an economic attack."
The 'alert phase' is "the second phase after 'early warning' and before 'emergency'," Van der Straeten clarified on Twitter, adding that the authorities are in permanent contact with the neighbouring countries and are closely monitoring the impact of their decisions on Belgium.
"Belgium is currently exporting up to 3.5 times its own consumption to Germany and the Netherlands at maximum capacity," she said. "Gas supply in Belgium is still guaranteed."
After consultation with Belgian system operator Fluxys Group and the Energy Administration, declaring the 'early warning' phase is not necessary at this time, according to Van der Straeten. "This is monitored and evaluated on a daily basis and adjusted if necessary."
Belgium has a big advantage in the fact that it has little Russian gas in its network, and with the port of Zeebrugge also has an important gateway for natural gas. Still, Van der Straeten stressed that the authorities are taking the necessary precautions.
The first update to Belgium's Emergency Plan for Natural Gas was made in April, and since then it has been continuously refined and sharpened through consultation with the sector. "You hope, of course, never to have to activate the emergency plan, but we leave nothing to chance."
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However, "it is not because Belgium does not have to declare an 'early warning' that the situation is not serious. The risk of prices rising and staying high is real," she emphasised.
"Energy is being used as a weapon, and in the light of the energy war it is all the more important to be prepared for all scenarios," Van der Straeten added. "It is essential to prepare on all fronts together with our neighbours and in Europe."
EU to restock gas reserves before winter
In the meantime, the European Parliament approved plans to restock the EU's gas reserves before winter to protect citizens and businesses if the gas supply is cut, it announced in a press release.
The new regulation is already agreed upon with EU ministers and sets a mandatory minimum level of 80% gas in storage facilities by 1 November this year, but Member States and operators should strive to reach 85%.
In the coming year, the target will be raised to 90% to protect Europeans from possible supply shocks. “The regulation is the answer to the current situation. Gazprom is using energy supply as a weapon," said MEP Jerzy Buzek. "So we have got our protective shield."
With the regulation, he added, "no one who uses energy as a weapon will be responsible for our storage capacities. Also, we can formally start our joint purchasing of natural gas in the EU."