What has been sitting in the drawer for years is not necessarily outdated.

The "Gas Emergency Plan for the Federal Republic of Germany" was created years before the current threat situation, its basis is even older: the so-called SoS regulation of the European Parliament and the European Council of Heads of State and Government "on measures to ensure a secure gas supply" is dated from October 2017.

Christian Geinitz

Business correspondent in Berlin

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Germany is using the regulations for the first time.

In view of the Russian threats, Italy on February 26 and Latvia on March 9 had already activated the first warning level of their gas emergency plans based on the SoS regulation before Berlin.

It is expected that more countries will take this step after today's meeting of the European Gas Coordination Group.

The German emergency plan consists of three escalation levels.

According to the SoS regulation, the early warning stage announced on Wednesday by Federal Economics and Energy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) is to be activated “if there are concrete, serious and reliable indications that an event may occur which is likely to lead to a significant deterioration in the gas supply situation as well as likely to trigger the alert and emergency level”.

Government tries to appease

The government, the Federal Network Agency and other actors repeatedly reassured on Wednesday that the step was only a precautionary measure.

The German gas supply is secure, there are no bottlenecks and it is hoped that no harsher measures will have to be used.

In fact, however, level 1 already signals a serious situation, because the underlying assessment must be so tangible that the escalation is "probable" and that it will lead to a "significant" restriction in gas supplies.

This could then be followed by the declaration of "alarm" and "emergency".

In the alert stage, there is not only a threat of disruption to the supply, but it is explicitly identified.

Nevertheless, the market is seen as able to continue to cope with the demand.

It's different on the last rung of the emergency response plan, in the event of an emergency.

Depending on the wording, the distortions here are “extraordinary”, “considerable”, “considerable”, and the market is no longer able to reconcile supply and demand on its own.

Then the state can intervene to give priority to particularly protected customers, such as private households or medical facilities.

At others, he could ration the gas supply.

Level 3 is the only one that uses, as it says, "a sovereign instrument to ensure the supply to cover vital needs".

According to German law, these public interventions may only take place after an emergency has been identified.

The federal government puts all three stages into effect by ordinance and must announce them in the press.

They do not have to take place one after the other, theoretically the worst possible emergency can be called out immediately.

The early warning level we are now in is based on one or more disruptions, such as long-lasting low storage levels, reduced gas flows at important entry points, the "failure of important sources of supply", in this case from Russia, or the declaration of crisis levels in the neighborhood .

For the time being, nothing will change for the supply.

The EU internal market rules continue to apply without restriction, the gas supply companies and the transmission and distribution system operators work as usual.