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EU plan for life without Russian gas a priority as leaders meet

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BRUSSELS (REUTERS) – EU leaders will on Friday (June 24) discuss how the bloc would cope without Russian gas, and are expected to accuse Moscow of “weaponising” energy via a supply squeeze that Germany warned could partially shut down its industry this winter.

A day after celebrations over setting Kyiv on the road to membership of the bloc, Friday’s summit in Brussels is set to be a sober reflection on the economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Leaders of the 27 European Union nations will, according to a draft summit statement seen by Reuters, place the blame for soaring inflation and sagging global growth on the war that began exactly four months ago.

Following unprecedented Western sanctions imposed over the invasion, a dozen European countries have so far been thumped by cuts in gas flows from Russia, triggering a frantic search for alternative supplies across the bloc.

“It is only a matter of time before the Russians close down all gas shipments,” said one EU official ahead of Friday’s talks.

Ahead of Friday’s talks, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Europe needs to ramp up efforts to cut its dependency from Russian fossil fuel imports in the face of the latest crisis.

“All together, we are very, very well prepared for the difficult challenge linked to Russian fossil fuel imports,” he told reporters.

He said this was the reason why the bloc had not only imposed sanctions on Russian coal and oil at an early stage, but had as well worked on adjusting its infrastructure in a way that European countries can import gas from other countries, too.

“This is an effort that we need to speed up further now – and of course this is linked to big challenges but we will support each other,” he said.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck warned his country was heading for a gas shortage if Russian supplies remained as low as currently, and some industries would have to be shut down come the winter.

“Companies would have to stop production, lay off their workers, supply chains would collapse, people would go into debt to pay their heating bills,” he told Der Spiegel magazine, adding it was part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy to divide the country.

Italian newspapers reported on Friday that Rome had called for EU leaders to reconvene for an exceptional mid-July meeting to discuss a possible price cap on Russian gas for which Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has been pushing.

According to Friday’s draft, leaders will call on the EU’s executive to come up with energy supply solutions in response to Moscow’s “weaponisation” of gas imports.

They will also stress their economies remain fundamentally strong and pledge to stay united in response to challenges posed by the war, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

The bloc responded to the war with uncharacteristic speed and unity, even though some sanctions, such as a planned embargo on Russian oil imports, will have repercussions for its economies.

Inflation in the 19 countries sharing the euro currency has shot to all-time highs above 8 per cent and the EU’s executive expects economic growth to dip to 2.7 per cent this year.

In their statement, the leaders will request the Commission seek to secure energy supply at affordable prices.

The Commission has so far not produced any proposals as the issue is highly complex and divisive, with some countries believing import price could disrupt the market and exacerbate the situation.

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