EU leaders squabbled Thursday on whether and how to implement a gas price ceiling to handle the energy crisis exacerbated by their shortsightedness over buying natural gas from Russia.
And, for the first time, the EU’s typical driving pair — Germany and France — were in opposite camps during the two-day summit in Brussels, with Germany expressing reservations and delaying plans for the price ceiling, while most others want to proceed.
“Our responsibility is to ensure European unity and that Germany is a part of it,” French President Emmanuel Macron stated. “Isolating itself is not beneficial for either Germany or Europe.” “It is critical that we achieve unity on solutions on which there is broad agreement,” Macron remarked upon his arrival at the meeting.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that any disagreement was over the approach, not the aim. “Prices for gas, oil, and coal must fall; power prices must fall, and this requires a collaborative effort from all of us in Europe,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated.
The Netherlands, too, expressed concern that if a price ceiling is established too high, supply will just sail by Europe and go abroad. “Everyone wants the price of gas to fall, but you also want to ensure that gas imports continue,” Prime Minister Rutte remarked.
It set the stage for difficult negotiations that were unlikely to be concluded by Friday afternoon, when the summit is scheduled to end.
EU Facing high Winter Gas Prices
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the 27 EU leaders via video conference from Kyiv, emphasized the necessity for rock-solid EU solidarity in confronting Russia at the summit’s outset, asking for continuous assistance to get his country through the winter.
Scholz argued that Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure and terrorizing cities with killer drones amounted to “war crimes.”
“Scorched-earth methods will not help Russia win the conflict.” “They simply increase Ukraine’s determination and staying power,” he told the German parliament.
The oncoming cold season will also be front and centre at EU headquarters, where leaders will turn up the heat in what is expected to be late-night meetings.
Natural gas prices soared this summer as EU states competed to outbid one another to replenish their winter stockpiles. Now, EU leaders will aim to pool their gas purchases and maybe impose a temporary price restriction to ensure that an overheated energy market does not return to haunt them.
The member states have already promised to reduce gas use by 15% in winter. They have also committed to filling gas-storage facilities to at least 80% capacity by November and to decreasing peak demand for energy by at least 5% as a way of reducing gas-fired power generation.
EU gas-price ceiling
For months, the issue of prospective EU gas-price ceilings has risen progressively up the political agenda as the energy crisis worsened, with 15 nations such as France and Italy clamouring for such drastic intervention.
And, if Angela Merkel was often the soothing voice brokering a solution during her 16 years as German chancellor, her successor Scholz is now at the core of the bloc’s split.
Germany and the Netherlands argue that market interventions such as excessive price ceilings could harm both natural gas availability and incentives for governments and consumers to save it.
Diplomats predicted that a plan for the EU to pool collective gas purchases and steps to strengthen solidarity with EU nations hardest affected by rising energy prices would gain significantly more support.
Russia is increasingly relying on drone strikes against Ukraine’s electricity grid and civilian infrastructure, as well as raids on Ukrainian cities, techniques that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described on Wednesday as “war crimes” and “absolute terror.”
More penalties are already being considered by diplomats. However, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s perceived warmth toward the Kremlin complicates matters. Even while past EU sanctions on Russia were unanimously adopted, it has been increasingly difficult to keep Orban on board by granting to loopholes.
“Anyone who calls for the relaxation of sanctions against Russia for terror or attempts to politicize the sanctions mechanism is not only attempting to allow Russian terror to go unpunished, and not only betrays the memory of terror victims, but also makes the entire European Community dependent on the most anti-European power in the modern world,” Zelenskyy said.
The Associated Press