Updated 1.50pm with plan details

Malta has been granted an exemption from a European Union plan to cut gas consumption by 15% in response to Russia's manipulation of supplies.

The plan, approved by energy ministers in Brussels, features exceptions and carve-outs as some EU countries blanched at making too deep a sacrifice.

Malta is among the countries to benefit from an exception, as its network is not connected to the continent's gas networks and the island is heavily reliant on gas for electricity production. 

Miriam Dalli, who presented Malta's case during talks between energy ministers, pointed to the country's reliance on gas for the production of energy and said that switching of fuels is not a viable option.

A mandatory reduction would therefore be detrimental for both households and businesses, she argued.

“We stand united together with the rest of the European Union in sending a strong signal of solidarity and cooperation to safeguard our citizens and ensure security of supply," she said.

"Even though Malta is exempt from a mandatory reduction of 15% in reducing its gas use, we will continue working hard to increase our share of renewables and incentives for businesses and households, to promote a switch to energy-efficient operations and renewable energy models”, she added.

Prime Minister Robert Abela said the government was, every day, taking decisions in the national interest to keep energy prices stable and to intervene in favour of the people.   

Hungary was the only member state to oppose the plan, which passed on a majority vote.

"In an effort to increase EU security of energy supply, member states today reached a political agreement on a voluntary reduction of natural gas demand by 15 per cent this winter," the energy ministers' council said.

"The Council regulation also foresees the possibility to trigger a 'Union alert' on security of supply, in which case the gas demand reduction would become mandatory," the statement continued.

It said the deal aims to make savings and store gas ahead of winter and warned that Russia is "using energy supplies as a weapon." 

Malta along with other island states Ireland and Cyprus were exempt from the deal because they would not be able to source alternative supplies. 

'Dirty games' 

Germany, the EU's economic powerhouse, is hugely dependent on Russian gas and remains at the mercy of the supply from Gazprom for the years still needed to find alternative sources.

"It is true that, Germany with its dependence on Russian gas, has made a strategic mistake but our government is working... to correct this," Germany's economy minister Robert Habeck said as he arrived.

France said showing solidarity with Berlin would help in turn protect all of Europe, even though Germany takes a major share of the 40 per cent of EU gas imports that came from Russia last year. 

"Our industrial chains are completely interdependent: if the chemical industry in Germany coughs, the whole of European industry could come to a halt," said French minister for energy transition, Agnes Pannier-Runacher.

The plan asks member states to voluntarily reduce gas use by 15 per cent -- based on a five-year average for the months in question -- starting next month and over the subsequent winter through March.

Czech industry minister Jozef Sikela, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the plan would deliver a strong answer to state-run Gazprom's plan to cut gas deliveries to Europe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "will continue to play his dirty games in misusing and blackmailing gas supplies," Sikela said.

Gazprom has said it is cutting daily gas deliveries to about 20 per cent of capacity from Wednesday. 

'Wise strategy' 

The EU member countries had already rejected an earlier European Commission proposal to give Brussels -- rather than the member states -- the power to impose gas use cuts in an emergency.

And the 15-per cent target will also be adapted to the situation of each country through a series of exemptions, taking into account their level of stocks and whether or not they have pipelines to share gas. 

"Nobody challenges the need for solidarity, but the means of solidarity can be very different and the initial proposal was not necessarily the most effective approach," Spain's minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera Rodriguez, said. 

Countries such as Spain or Portugal, which have limited links to the interconnected gas supply grid, will also benefit from exceptions and derogations. 

Gazprom said Monday that it was halting the operation of one of the last two operating turbines due to the "technical condition of the engine", but Simson dismissed this claim.

"We know that there is no technical reason to do so," she said. 

"This is a politically motivated step and we have to be ready for that and exactly for that reason the pre-emptive reduction of our gas demand is a wise strategy."

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