European leaders are pleading with Brussels for a comprehensive EU-wide solution to rein in high energy prices, but all they have got so far is the promise of a disappointing set of “tools”.
a Record force price It is causing great concern in EU capitals, as governments warn that failure to tackle the problem could lead to a popular backlash against the EU and its Green Deal policies aimed at cutting emissions.
But Brussels appears reluctant to take the lead in tackling the issue, leaving countries to fend for themselves against disaffected voters and the risk of ever-rising prices.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday on the sidelines of a summit in Slovenia where European heads of state and government were supposed to focus on the Western Balkans.
Sanchez and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis also raised the issue at a dinner before the summit on Tuesday night, according to a senior EU official briefed on the meeting.
The Spanish Prime Minister said: “We have asked both the Council and the Commission to have a serious discussion on this issue, and we have asked the Commission to be bold in its response.”
MEPs are discussing the issue in Strasbourg, and EU environment ministers who tackled the issue at a meeting in Luxembourg also called on the European Commission to present EU-wide solutions.
For now, the Commission is a “toolbox” of policy steps that countries could use to support consumers facing high energy bills – mostly warm measures unlikely to provide much-needed relief. It includes direct payments to the poorest households, energy tax cuts or the transfer of fees into general taxes – all of which, Energy Commissioner Kadri Simpson, told Parliament on Wednesday, would be in line with EU law.
Any possible reforms to the gas market – something finance ministers from several countries He said in a statement Earlier this week should be investigated – will be included in the decision already audit of the EU gas market package, due on December 14.
She also said that Europe needs to “remain aware of the importance of energy geopolitics and develop a more strategic approach to foreign energy policy,” but did not go into detail about what that approach might look like.
Environment ministers who meet in Luxembourg on Wednesday had expected more.
Although countries have come up with a variety of proposals – from a major revamp of the bloc’s wholesale electricity market to using a cash emissions trading system to cut electricity bills – a majority of ministers also insisted on the need for greater coordinated action in Brussels. .
Waiting two weeks until the European Council summit scheduled for October 21-22 – which is expected to be dominated by talks on the energy crisis – means further delays in the action they say is urgently needed.
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Some have warned that the cost of inaction could undermine the EU’s efforts to reform its economy to net zero.
“The European Green Energy Transition Strategy is not the cause of this crisis, but populist voices are saying exactly this: they want us to blame the Green Deal,” said Greek Minister of Environment and Energy, Costas Skrekas. “We can’t just stay put and do nothing against this problem.”
“We have to decide, from the central European level, to show EU citizens that we care about them…to kill populist voices, to support the most vulnerable families,” he said.
Spain’s Environmental Transition Minister Teresa Ribera likened the situation to the 2012 euro crisis, invoking former European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” statement that the EU must take all necessary steps to avoid an energy crisis that casts doubt on the viability of the goals green mass.
“We can use the public budget resources available to combat this…or even the budget resources we don’t have to protect our vulnerable families,” said Ribera. “When you are faced with extraordinary situations, you have to take extraordinary measures.”
But the EU’s institutions are also in trouble. Even if they are eager to start work, their power to intervene in national energy policies is limited, giving the Council and the Commission little room for maneuver.
In Slovenia on Wednesday, European Council President Charles Michel stressed that while there may be “political space” to shape a European response to the crisis, “the energy mix is a national responsibility”.
Speaking to Luxembourg’s environment ministers, Green Deal chair Frans Timmermans suggested that countries monitor the long-term goal, saying “the best answer to this problem today is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”.
Noting that climate policies were responsible for only 20 percent of the price jump, he said those who blame the Green Deal are doing so “perhaps for ideological reasons or sometimes for economic reasons to protect their own interests.”
But ministers seeking short-term reforms as well as long-term dreaming were unmoved by taking Timmermans.
“This is not the answer our societies need to hear. We need to say what we are going to do to tackle the problem,” said Adam Giborgje Czturtinsky, Under-Secretary of State for the Polish Climate Ministry.
David Herzenhorn contributed reporting.