Experts say that, along with E.U. efforts to line up new suppliers, cutting demand for gas is the only way to survive relatively unscathed this winter.
Simone Tagliapietra, an expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said the European Commission plan “goes in the right direction,” but he warned that a lot hinges on clear and honest communication between governments and Europeans.
“This requires serious and straightforward communication to the public,” he said. “Governments must ask people to consume less and should have the courage to tell their citizens that Europe is in the midst of what possibly represents the greatest energy crisis in its history.”
The commission itself recognized the importance of appealing directly to the public, and said in its proposal that a critical part of its plan was a mass-media campaign urging people to do their part to conserve, primarily by cutting heating and cooling at home.
The commission predicts that major disruptions to the flow of Russian gas could shave off as much as 1.5 percentage points off an already-degraded economic growth forecast of 2.7 percent this year, and could even plunge the bloc into recession next year.
When the war began, the European Union responded with sanctions on Russia but cutting off energy imports was seen as a distant prospect, at most. Within months, positions had hardened enough to impose a near-total embargo on Russian oil by the end of this year. Yet a ban on Russian gas has remained off the table because so much of Europe depends on it, and alternative sources are scarce.