Brussels recently proposed that all EU countries reduce their gas consumption by 15%. On its surface, it seems like a flat tax. If we tax everybody 15%, that seems fair and just, no? Well, if you dig a little deeper, not really. 15% of a poor person’s income might constitute their ability to pay for food or rent for the month. 15% of millionaire’s income might determine which brand of supercar they can purchase that year. Stepping back to the gas rationing, Spain is essentially making the argument that this 15% reduction is unduly unfair and punitive for the nation.
Spain’s first problem with the cut is that Brussels seems to have made this decision without much input by Spain. Sending mandates down from on high is not a popular form of governance – it was a big motivator of Brexit. So, Spain is understandably frustrated that they were not consulted more, because they would have communicated their concerns privately instead of having to do it publicly like they are now. Their second problem is the nature of their concerns: they are very valid. A 15% cut across the EU sounds good on the surface, but energy dependence on Russia is variable throughout the bloc. The thought was that this continental cut would free up export capacity for alternative suppliers, but this theory has not distracted from the real effect that their citizens will suffer if implemented. As Teresa Ribera, the minister for Ecological Transition of Spain, summed up her nation’s stance quite well when she said, “We cannot assume a disproportionate sacrifice on which they have not even asked us for a prior opinion”.
The Writing on the Wall
Another complicating factor is that Spain has been proactive when it comes to establishing their energy infrastructure. The country has invested vast sums, which have been financed by companies and average households paying higher prices, to build a network of regasification plants. This has allowed them to become the primary point of entry for 30% of Europe’s liquefied natural gas imports. In their view, other countries have “lived beyond their means” from an energy perspective, and that excess is coming back to bite them. They did not establish such infrastructure, and instead have relied on physical pipelines from Russia, who they West has known for decades to be on a path towards its current pariah status. Nevertheless, Spain is quite committed to the European experiment. They want to show solidarity with their neighbours and allies, and they do not want to help the Russian regime.
No matter what happens, Spain is defending itself. They invested heavily to obtain more energy independence from Russia. Like a good student, they do not want to be punished for doing their homework.